G.R.O.W. Binghampton brings families together

The Junior League of Memphis G.R.O.W. Binghampton program gives families in that community an opportunity to bond over fun and educational activities. 
The Lester Community Center is home to many activities for families in the Binghampton community to enjoy, including the seven-year-old G.R.O.W. Binghampton program.
G.R.O.W. is run by the Junior League of Memphis, and provides a family-friendly atmosphere for children and their care-takers to spend quality time together while doing activities and sharing a meal with their neighbors.
G.R.O.W. stands for the core vales of the program, which are: Giving, Readiness, Opportunity and Wellness. The program takes place every other Thursday from Labor Day until the end of the school year, with a winter break in the middle. The Junior League volunteers organize a one-hour activity for the families to engage in together, then they enjoy dinner before heading home. It is designed to give children more bonding time with their family members and their community.
The Junior League chose Binghampton for this program after doing citywide research to find where their volunteers could best serve a need. They were also already connected to the neighborhood through other volunteer projects and the Lester Community Center offered an invaluable connection to the residents.
Nicole Buffington is the G.R.O.W. Binghampton chair for the Junior League of Memphis and has worked with the program for three years. She said that this program and the community that it serves are so incredible that she couldn't help but be "sucked in."
"Our Thursday Night Supper Club offers two hours of family time that children are spending with their parents or grandparents. There are no phones or TVs, so in place of the usual distractions we have family activities and meals. It's a way for them to bond, do something new and then sit down to talk about it," said Buffington.
The program is completely free, the one requirement is children must have an adult family member with them to join.
"We have had kids come up to events at the community center and we just tell them to go get their parents or guardian and come back," said Buffington. "The whole point of this is for the children to bond with the adults in their lives so we want them all to participate."
The activities vary from basic family bonding to educational growth. The League throws a big Christmas party with events and treats, which is highly anticipated by the Supper Club members. Not only do the families get to enjoy a party, the Junior League also makes a Christmas necessity basket for every family that is a member, getting input on what everyone needs from Walter Casey, who is the Director of the Lester Community Center. They take up donations and provide whatever essentials are needed, anything from toothbrushes to socks.
Paula Barnes, chair for the G.R.O.W. Thursday Night Supper Club, said that G.R.O.W. Binghampton has been an incredible experience, for her and for the other Junior League members.
"Working with this program has really given me perspective that I will forever be grateful for. This past year we worked with Seize the Clay and let families make Christmas ornaments, something I assumed was a common occurrence; however, we had some participants tell us that these were the first Christmas ornaments they have ever made."
They have also had Junior League members run resume workshops for G.R.O.W. activities and invited local colleges to do informational sessions with the Supper Club high school students.
"Last year we did a resume writing tutorial with the adults and they couldn't have been more thrilled," said Barnes. "In fact, they enjoyed it so much, they recommended we bring it back this year and expand it. We want to offer these families fun and exciting memories while providing them with resources they can use in their everyday lives – and the resume writing is just one example of how we strive to make a positive impact on this community."
Past programs for the Supper Club members include performances by Stax Academy, Hattiloo Theater, Ballet Memphis and the New Ballet Ensemble.
At the beginning of the school year G.R.O.W. has a fall kickoff event where families can reconnect after the summer break. Barnes said she loves seeing the eagerness of the returning families who want to know what will be happening.
"The excitement for what the G.R.O.W. program has in store is immeasurable and that just makes us want to knock it out of the park each and every year," she said. "Ultimately we strive to make a difference in the Binghampton community by exposing families to things they may not have an opportunity to see otherwise."
The Thursday Night Supper Club was designed to connect people, and according to Buffington that is not a one-way street.
"It's not just the parents that are bonding with their children; the neighbors are getting to know each other and the Junior League members who volunteer are bonding with the community as well. Once you come out to be a part of what is happening here you can't help but be sucked in by the passion and the closeness of the Binghampton community, we have become a part of these families’ lives and it's been such a great experience to be involved here."

Read more articles by Lauren Turner.

Lauren Turner is a native Memphian and journalism graduate student at the University of Memphis. She is passionate about her city and the people who inhabit it. 
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