FRAMINGHAM — Growing up, after-school activities were a key factor in helping Margie Ann Rosario to succeed.
For many people from her neighborhood in South Framingham, options were limited at the end of the school day. She and her friends longed for access — the same opportunities to grow and prosper that children in other parts of the community received.
Rosario found opportunities when she started at Keefe Regional Technical School. She played sports and became involved in school-sponsored groups, which made a positive impact on her upbringing.
Friend Julissa Ortiz had a similar experience. She started a dance team at Framingham High, which provided the creative outlet that helped her grow.
“If you ask us, where we come from, what helped us through high school … I’ll tell you it was my sports. It was my groups,” Rosario said. “It was the things I was involved in.”
The pair, cofounders of a nonprofit called Discovering Hidden Gems, now hope to provide similar opportunities for children in all parts of the city. The new group is working to establish after-school programming for at-risk youth, with the mission of improving the quality of their lives through education and recreational experiences.
The group is targeting children living in impoverished areas, and those who are economically challenged or mentally disadvantaged. With the help of friend and board member Jen Corrales, the women are preparing to launch a series of new after-school programs that will both give children a place to hang out as well as help them to learn coping strategies, foster new relationships and develop a positive self-image.
“A lot of our teenagers, they only have the mall and the movies, when it comes to the weekends …” Ortiz said, “so we thought why not provide a space that’s safe, that we can work on skills, that’s fun for them to be at.”
Rosario and Ortiz launched the group at the start of the year, inspired by Framingham’s transition from town to city, and the election of its first mayor, Yvonne Spicer — the first African-American woman to be popularly-elected mayor in the state. They set the goal of getting up and running within six months, but leapfrogged ahead, accomplishing their goal in a matter of about eight weeks.
One of the nonprofit's first programs, a dance team, started about three months ago, using space in the cafeteria at the South Middlesex Opportunity Council building on Bishop Street. It has about one dozen participants and was recently sponsored by MetroWest Dance Academy, which will offer practice space on Friday evenings.
Planeta Infantil, a bilingual Spanish immersion program geared toward toddlers, will launch at the library in the summer. The program introduces the Spanish language through activities, such as body movement, storytelling and sing-alongs. Meetings will take place on Fridays in July and August.
“It will hopefully promote school readiness,” Ortiz said, “which is an important skill for these kids.”
Rosario brings expertise in the nonprofit world to the group. She worked in special education for about 15 years and has done social media, marketing and public relations work for nonprofits since starting a family about three years ago.
The group has also been bolstered by donations from individuals and local businesses.
“We’ve gotten positive responses,” Rosario said, “and we’ve been able to execute more with the help of the community.”
Another important partner is the recreation program at the Pelham Apartments, which provides programming for youth residing at the complex. Pelham’s staff proposed a new six-week workshop to teach children how to develop communications skills and build healthy relationships.
Discovering Hidden Gems also plans to launch a series of Friday night programming for children at the SMOC building on Bishop Street. Activities will range from paint nights and yoga lessons to spoken word performances. Residents of the Pelham Apartments will be eligible for free transportation.
The group will be posting information about programs and upcoming events on Facebook and its website, discoveringhiddengems.org. It will hold its first fundraiser from 4 to 9 p.m. April 28 at the Framingham Eagles 894, 55 Park St.
Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin