SUISUN CITY — The doors to The Leaven were still a few minutes from opening. A handful of youths waited outside.
“I found candy,” one boy said. Later, he sat down and began his homework.
Another boy was walking on his hands. A girl was chasing a homework paper that the Suisun breezes captured.
There was energy to spare. Site director Renee Tadlock let the children in, had them put down their backpacks, grabbed a few sports balls and walked the children across the street to Mike Day Memorial Park.
“I don’t want to play kickball,” one boy said.
“Part of character-building is doing things we don’t want to do,” Tadlock told him.
One team took the field. The other waited for their turn to kick the ball.
“But me and him don’t get along,” one boy explained to volunteer Robin Tolvtvar, pointing to his teammate.
“This is a good opportunity to learn,” she told him.
The Suisun City location opened about a year ago. The Leaven recently celebrated its fourth anniversary. It has four centers in Fairfield, one in Suisun and one coming soon to Vacaville. There’s also one site in Southern California.
An average of 12 to 16 children, kindergarten through fifth grade, pack into a room at The Villages complex on Civic Center Boulevard. They are there for 90 minutes Monday through Thursday.
“Miss Renee, do you have an encyclopedia to look up Pocahontas?” asked third-grader Elizabeth Rodriguez.
Before Tadlock could answer, one boy showed her a sheet of letters he’s been practicing writing.
“Very good job,” she said. Tadlock takes time to show him how to curve his V’s into U’s, the letter he was learning.
It’s back to Elizabeth. With an iPad in hand, Tadlock calls on technology to answer questions about a woman who lived four centuries ago. The answers were there.
“I learned her real name was Amonute,” Elizabeth said. “She was called Pocahontas, because she was playful.”
Amaria McDowell, a fourth-grader, worked his way through writing sentences. He left one word out. His solution was to write it off to the side.
Tadlock and her volunteers had another idea. Erase to the spot where the word was omitted, add it and finish the sentence.
The proposal met with some reluctance, but Amaria acquiesced.
A staff of nine volunteers helps Tadlock. Tolvtvar is there three of the four days. She’s been a volunteer at The Leaven for three years.
“My kids are grown and I don’t have to work,” she said of her reason for helping out.
One recent day, she was keeping an eye on a young boy who had just gotten his first pair of glasses. He was picked on at school and didn’t want to wear them.
Tolvtvar told him they looked nice. A little encouragement goes a long way, she said.
Character-building is an integral part of The Leaven program. The children are earning character points to attend a Vanden High School football game Friday, where they will get to sit with the players.
Such rewards help the children adopt a more positive attitude about things such as homework, Tadlock said. Some of the children had a negative association with homework that translated into frustration and the desire to give up, she said.
Conflict resolution is another skill Tadlock and the volunteers work on.
The Leaven has served more than 500 children since it began.
“We try to keep helping the community any way we can,” said Mark Lillis, The Leaven’s executive director. “We are humbled to be able to do this work.”
The program serves children in low-income, urban communities. Tutoring is just one component. Other services include rental assistance, financial education, neighborhood revitalization and mentoring. Health and wellness is promoted through affordable fresh produce, health screenings and workshops.
The Leaven’s first center was in Fairfield. When Suisun City Councilman Mike Segala heard of the program, he wanted one in Suisun City. Before setting up in Suisun City, The Leaven opened a site in Southern California.
Lillis recalled getting a phone call from Segala with a message similar to “how can you go to Southern California and not get one in beautiful Suisun City?”
“Sometimes you have to plant the seeds and watch them grow,” Segala said.
Suisun City Police Chief Ed Dadisho is happy the center came to fruition. The children benefit in several ways, he said.
“They don’t get into trouble,” he said.
The program also bring families together, he said.
“The kids want to show their mom or dad what they are doing and that draws in the moms and dads,” he said.
The children also take pride in where they live, he said, cutting down on the vandalism rate.
For more information, visit www.myleaven.org.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.