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Just over 100 Riverbank Elementary students will take to the field this Thursday

West Columbia, SC 04/05/2023 - Just over 100 Riverbank Elementary students will take to the field this Thursday to demonstrate the soccer skills they’ve learned as participants in the Beyond Goals after-school program.

But many of the other benefits these first- through fifth-graders are learning from the program – offered by Riverbank and sponsored by several area businesses – are more subtle.

The idea for the after-school program came from Riverbank Elementary social worker Grace Ann Ray and School Resource Officer India Taylor, to capitalize on students’ passion for sports and to enrich their connections to other students and adults in a positive environment.

“Our students love school – Riverbank is their safe place,” Ray said. “We know our kids are at an age where they are easily influenced and looking for a sense of connection and belonging, and we noticed a window to build upon our students’ strengths, enhance their communication and relationship skills, and overall build resiliency.”

“It is also common for life stressors and significant risk factors to begin affecting children before the age of 12. So, we asked, why not go ahead and provide more opportunities right now, in elementary school, to help students build confidence and resiliency,” Ray added.

The program was so popular that more than 100 students signed up in just 24 hours. It launched February 28 and concludes with the skills demonstration on Thursday, April 6, set for 3-5:30pm at the Northside Middle soccer field and open to the public.

Of the roughly 102 participants, regular transportation was a challenge for 60 of them. That’s when House of Raeford’s charitable arm FLOCK, which supports a number of Lexington Two student initiatives, stepped in to help.

“We try to invest in elementary schools, especially ones that our employees may have a connection to,” FLOCK’s Chuck Underhill said. “We’ve had partnerships with Cayce Elementary and Saluda River Academy for the Arts, and we thought Riverbank would be a good fit, too.”

Underhill met with Lt. Ronald Fair and some others with the West Columbia Police Department to discuss the program. “We have a good working relationship with law enforcement, so when Lieutenant Fair and some others sat down to talk with us about it, we were all in. It was easy for us to get behind.”

FLOCK’s $15,000 donation pays for free bus transportation for student participants back to their homes each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, as well as stipends for teachers who are working and coaching with the program. Community partner volunteers also support the program, along with several businesses including Whetzel Automotive, Kenneth Shuler School of Cosmetology, Bank of America, Sodexo, First Priority Ambulance, and Image 360. Bank of America, Saluda River Baptist Church, Green Hill Baptist Church, and Brookland-Cayce High School students all send volunteers to mentor students weekly.

“We know the power a trustworthy mentor can have on the trajectory of a students' life. And we also know that connections within our community may be the factor that makes or breaks a child's ability to make strides toward their dream career and have the tools, social connections, and resources necessary to achieve their goals when the time comes,” Ray said. “Our mentorship through sports program at Riverbank Elementary is a multifaceted approach in building up youth skills and their sense of connection to one another, their teachers, and adult mentors.”

Riverbank Elementary Principal David Sims echoed that sentiment.

“We are proud to host the Beyond Goals soccer program,” he said. “The students are showing growth in areas that impact the whole child. It has been fun to watch.”

Others around Riverbank Elementary are seeing the difference in student participants, too.

"A lot of children do not get the experience of playing an after-school sport, nor do they get to see their friends and teachers after school,” said Riverbank teacher Sean Bech. “It's heartwarming to see the children make new friends, new relationships with teachers, and learn to support and lift each other through the game of soccer."

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