NOKOMIS — Focusing on programs for empowering children and adults, Laurel Civic continues to expand in everything it offers from homework assistance programs to financial literacy.
“Great staple in the community providing assistance on both sides — the adult families that need assistance as well as the children,” Executive Director Peter Casamento said.
After nearly a year as the executive director, Casamento has restructured Laurel Civic’s youth programs to offer more opportunity for the students the organization serves.
“I’ve had time to assess, evaluate and now we are restructuring,” he said.
Laurel Civic was formed in 1969 by local volunteers. It was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1989 and is next to Laurel Park and leases a space in the Sandra Sims Terry Community Center at 509 Collins Road in Nokomis.
The organization offers both youth and adult services ranging from after school homework assistance and teen empowerment to work development and financial literacy training.
“I believe in empowering adults and children through love,” Casamento said.
In the new restructuring, the youth programs will look a little different this year.
“My whole structure is about making it more conducive to learning,” Casamento said.
In years past, Laurel Civic’s youth program was under homework assistance. Now, the organization is expanding to offer more diverse after school programs for K-12 students.
For its homework assistance program, Laurel Nokomis School students are picked up by a bus paid for by the organization, while other students can find the nearest bus to them.
Under the new structure, students will be provided with 15 to 20 minutes of free time before being served a meal.
They will then go to the homework assistance program.
Casamento said the program aims at helping both under- and overachievers. For those falling behind, volunteers help catch them up, and for those already excelling, they are offered things like a STEM program.
But for the after school youth programs, it doesn’t stop at homework assistance. Laurel Civic offers opportunities in STEM or a Sea Cadets program.
“So I want to be able to allow the children and the teens to come in here and not only focus on their homework and doing well there, but also other activities that will get them to start thinking about what am I going to do,” he said.
Adding onto the programs, Laurel Civic has recently received several different grants for refurnishing its classroom set up and buying two 78-inch interactive touch smartboards that will project onto laptops provided to every student.
The organization will also now have access to what the student is learning in school, with a parent or guardian’s consent. Access will allow Laurel Civic to see test scores and how each student is doing academically.
“Our goal is to identify the weaknesses,” Casamento said.
By doing so, the organization can better help what each student needs, he said.
Casamento said in the past, students would come to the homework assistance program and sometimes, they wouldn’t have been assigned any homework. Volunteers would give the give them something else to work on.
Now, through the system, Laurel Civic can access homework or extra assignments. The staff can also communicate directly with the students’ teachers.
“It’s going to be a great tool,” he said.
In a recent grant from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Laurel Civic will also have two teachers after school to mentor its volunteers. Casamento said it will help build the volunteers’ confidence so they can help students.
This year, the program will be Monday through Friday, with Friday’s having other programs like special speakers from organizations such as Mote Marine and the Van Wezel.
“Part of learning is, in my experience, you teach, but you gotta make it fun,” Casamento said.
During the summers, Laurel Civic also offers a seven-week teen empowerment program to help students make a plan for post-graduation, whether it is college, trade school or the military.
While the 2022 program just ended, Casamento said the organization will focus on sophomore and junior students next year.
“We are on the path to great success,” he said.
For youth programs, there is an annual registration fee of $100. Casamento said parents or guardians can pay $20 up front and then pay the rest throughout the year. The fee allows students to participate in any of the programs offered.
For registration and applications, visit:laurelcivic.org
Not only does Laurel Civic help youth, but it also serves adults.
“Our adult services are equally important to the children services,” Casamento said.
The organization has a workforce development program teaching job training skills, resume building, financial literacy, how to interview for jobs and responsibilities of an employee.
Casamento said it can help break a certain cycle by empowering adults so they can in turn empower their children.
Recently, the organization partnered with the Goodwill in Venice to provide financial literacy training, with more prospective businesses potentially on the way, Casamento said.
For any of the adult programs at Laurel Civic, he said people can just walk in for help.
Apart from the programs, Laurel Civic also offers a client choice food distribution every first and third Thursday of the month. It currently assists around 80 families.
At this food bank, people can shop around the room — like a grocery store — for items they actually want.
“Because you hit hard times and you are going through some struggles, shouldn’t take away your personal dignity,” Casamento said.