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Center searches for homework helpers

Each afternoon, Sarah Baltmeskis tries to set aside a period of time at the Lake Villa Outreach Center for the children who come there to do their homework.

It isn't easy. There are many other things that capture kids' attention at the center, a portable trailer boasting pool and foosball tables, two computers and two television sets. There's also plenty of grass outside play.

Hoping to better assist the children who come to the city's three outreach centers, Largo officials are looking for volunteers to do one-on-one tutoring. "In turn, we hope they will be more motivated to attend school, to bond with their school and make the right choices," said Polly Bateman, who was hired by the city to put the program together.

The city got a federal grant for $31,250 to create the program, under which organizations are being asked to provide homework assistance, hands-on learning and tutoring.

The program will focus on elementary school students who come to the outreach centers. The other outreach centers are Lake Palms and Tri-Parks.

"The volunteers and mentors would be greatly appreciated," said Baltmeskis, who is one of two employees who work at Lake Villa.

Bateman will train the volunteers, who must go through criminal background checks. Bateman had been executive vice president of the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation, which works to improve the academic skills of at-risk youths.

The volunteers will work with the children in such subjects as math, science, and language arts. They also will work with the kids on what they call a life skills program, which includes learning how to set goals, health-enhancing behavior like eating the right foods and learning how to embrace diversity.

There are few restrictions on volunteers, Bateman said. They do not necessarily have to have a background in education. They can be senior citizens or high school seniors.

"I want people who desire to be volunteers," Bateman said. "I want to match it with what they are comfortable with."

Bateman now has two volunteers.

"I'm hoping the volunteers will recruit other volunteers," said Bateman.

She hopes to get the program started by the end of January.

Bateman wants to create a year-round program that will continue through the summer.

For information about the program, call Bateman at 587-6740 ext.5007.

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