Ravenna program that keeps kids out of trouble is holding a fundraiser March 4

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The Ravenna youth organization Children Always Resisting Enemies (CARE) will hold a fundraising dinner from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 4 at Skeels Community Center, 4378 Skeels St., Ravenna.

The cost is $20 for a rib dinner, which includes three sides and dessert, or $15 for a seafood or chicken/turkey sausage gumbo dinner.

To obtain a ticket, call CARE President Desiree Perry at 330-296-7463 by Thursday, March 2. Walk-in guests are also welcome.

Attendees will also be invited to participate in raffles for bowling certificates, oil changes and coupons for various eateries.

Because some of the CARE kids’ families don’t have vehicles, proceeds raised will help with transportation to and from weekly CARE programs at the Skeels and King Kennedy community centers, for gardening supplies, meals during CARE meetings, arts and crafts supplies, and biennial out-of-state field trips.

Perry, CARE vice president Wanda Warren, and adviser Joanne Stikes started CARE in 2005 to combat the loss of the community’s children to drugs.

“We watched our communities get overrun by drug dealers, and nobody did anything about it,” Perry said. “We formed a group, and our children started marching against the drugs. Believe it or not, we’re the reason most of our drug dealers left. They were offended, they felt condemned because the kids were marching against them.”

Unlike yesteryear’s youth, some modern kids lack imagination and can’t think of harmless ways to keep themselves busy, Perry said.

“We saw our kids were angry. They don’t have anything to do in Portage County, so we have to keep them busy. If you don’t keep them busy, they‘re going to be in trouble,” she said.

CARE fills that need, teaching kids about the dangers of drugs, how to stand up for their community and that they are indeed somebody.

“You can be whatever you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t be,” Perry said.

Hard words to hear when kids were seeing drug dealers sporting brand new tennis shoes.

“That plagued our community. That’s why we had a lot of kids turn into being drug dealers, because the drug dealers had it all. We had to put a stop to it,” Perry said.

CARE kids aged 5 to 17 meet the first Saturday of every month at the Skeels Community Center, participating in any number of activities.

Liz Davidhoff, a retired home economics teacher from Aurora, leads CARE kids in arts and crafts and life skills programming, the constant focus being on respecting themselves and each other.

CARE kids learn gardening and life skills lessons at a garden a block away from the Skeels Community Center, and pay attention while garden overseer Joan Stikes Jenkins, a nurse, teaches them about nutrition. Once the vegetables and herbs are ready, the youth learn to prepare the produce, which is theirs for the taking.

CARE kids also participate in the NAACP’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, cooking, serving, and cleaning up during each event. They make Valentine’s Day cards and gifts every year for residents in three area nursing homes, and use a lawn mower Portage County Judge Lori Pittman donated to beautify the community and earn a few dollars while they’re at it.

“We believe in giving back to the community,” Perry said.

CARE really does take a village. The organization couldn’t do what it does without secretary Jeneen Kabala. Helping with cooking classes and arranging meals and snacks is Shawntay Loftin, mother of one of the CARE kids. Her preteen daughter, Raquel Loftin, serves as CARE’s junior president.

Every other year CARE participants take an out-of-state field trip. Perry knows it’s the first and last time some of the youth will leave Portage County, much less the state.

She recalled one trip to Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Kentucky; the Muhammed Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky; and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Proceeds from Saturday’s fundraiser will help cover expenses for CARE’s next trip, which Perry says will be to Pittsburgh.

What kid wouldn’t like to visit a chocolate factory? However, not all CARE kids can. The price of admission is proven good behavior both in school and out, and evidence that they are trying in school even if their grades aren’t stellar.

Perry and the other CARE leaders work closely with the children’s teachers, and direct students who need academic assistance to tutoring programs overseen by Sharon Sanders and Myia Sanders from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at the Skeels and King Kennedy community centers.

Students are not charged for tutoring, some of which is performed by Kent State students and some by retired teachers. Students also receive a free dinner.

CARE is a faith-based organization, so every activity includes scriptural activities and prayer.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.