Before the pandemic, every Monday through Friday at 3:15 PM, the youngest residents of Riverside’s Eastside neighborhood flooded through the doors at the Community Settlement Association, an affiliate of Riverside Community Health Foundation, for the after-school program known as BEST or Bettering Every Student for Tomorrow. They convened excitedly into a main classroom lined with books, computers, and a proud display of personal artwork.


Though the classrooms may have closed, the learning still continues – virtually. From tutoring to crafting, the After School Program at the Community Settlement Association offers these young minds a safe space and an outlet to not only learn, but to build social skills that reaches far beyond their current circumstances.


The program definitely takes pressure off of me as a parent,” shared one parent who enrolled all three of her children into the summer and after-school programs shortly after the pandemic began, “when I know there is somebody else that can help and explain things better to them.”


“Our goal is to mentally and physically challenge our students,” said Steven Villegas, the After School Program Coordinator. “These kids are amazing. All we want to do is help them recognize the endless potential and possibilities that lie ahead of them.”


The program offers the opportunity for children between kindergarten and eighth grade to not only interactively learn through challenging games and activities, but also to engage with one another on issues that matter to the community and the world.


“I am glad I tried something I thought I wouldn’t like,” shared one empowered fifth grader. “I got to teach my own lesson on Dinosaurs and teach other kids things I know that they didn’t.”


Despite all the challenges, the after-school program continues to foster the development of our youth to become strong leaders and learners of tomorrow.