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'Toddler Zumba' made possible with Bridges to Progress grant funds
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'Toddler Zumba' made possible with Bridges to Progress grant funds

On the floor of the Jefferson Park Center on York Street, 6-month-old Elise Campbell was happily gnawing on a plastic egg-shaped shaker. Her sister, Edelyn, 3, was beside her, accompanying her with gusto on a small set of drums. They have been coming to Lynchburg Parks and Recreation’s newly-offered toddler Zumba class, or “Zumbini,” a celebration of movement, dance, music and instruments, for the past several sessions. The program was made possible with $4,500 in grant funding through Bridges to Progress, the city’s poverty reduction initiative. The money was awarded at the end of 2019, but due to COVID-19 the program was delayed until this September. It was applied for through the city’s early childhood care and education taskforce, a committee within Bridges to Progress, which has a goal of improving kindergarten readiness by increasing access to quality Pre-K programs and promoting preschool literacy. Now, at 10 a.m. every Wednesday at the neighborhood center, Jamey Love, a recreation specialist with parks and recreation, leads children ages newborn to four through interactive songs and dance. Love said she has seen more families almost every week, and the program functions to promote social, emotional, cognitive, motor and language early development in children. Aside from the preschool playgroups hosted by parks and recreation in partnership with Lynchburg City Schools, she said there’s nothing else quite like this in the community. Assistant City Manager John Hughes said the Bridges to Progress initiative is especially glad to support programs that facilitate bonding between caregivers and children. “The programs that we do at neighborhood centers, not only for a certain economic demographic, help to alleviate some of the family barriers that occur within our population,” Hughes said. As Love started the music Wednesday morning, caregivers and children trickled into the neighborhood center until five families, with eight total children, were being led in a march around the circle. They played with instruments and brightly colored cloth and rejoiced in the utter cacophony of eight sets of tiny hands banging together sticks. Larissa Campbell, mother of Edelyn and Elise, said she has been coming for a couple weeks now, ever since she found out the program was free. “It’s really great for my girls to get out,” she said. “They love it.” Despite not being “musically inclined” herself, she said, through the program her daughters can get that experience and interact with a variety of different instruments and the other children around them. “I think it is really great for their little minds,” she said, “for them to get to explore things they normally wouldn’t get to explore.” Jennifer Jones, director of parks and recreation, said the program would not be possible for many families without the grant funding and access to the neighborhood centers. It supports physical fitness and family togetherness, two values of the department. Jones said she loves the department is beginning a “feeder program” for dance, aerobics, CrossFit, athletics and music at such a “young impressionable age.” Love hopes to see the program continue to grow until she can begin offering even more sessions. Week to week, more of the toddlers begin to recognize her, are reaching for the instruments or miming the dance before she has to give them direction. They crowd around her during free play, and are excited to walk through the door and jump right into the action. “It does my heart good,” Love said.

On the floor of the Jefferson Park Center on York Street, 6-month-old Elise Campbell was happily gnawing on a plastic egg-shaped shaker. Her sister, Edelyn, 3, was beside her, accompanying her with gusto on a small set of drums.

They have been coming to Lynchburg Parks and Recreation’s newly-offered toddler Zumba class, or “Zumbini,” a celebration of movement, dance, music and instruments, for the past several sessions.

The program was made possible with $4,500 in grant funding through Bridges to Progress, the city’s poverty reduction initiative. The money was awarded at the end of 2019, but due to COVID-19 the program was delayed until this September.

It was applied for through the city’s early childhood care and education taskforce, a committee within Bridges to Progress, which has a goal of improving kindergarten readiness by increasing access to quality Pre-K programs and promoting preschool literacy.

Now, at 10 a.m. every Wednesday at the neighborhood center, Jamey Love, a recreation specialist with parks and recreation, leads children ages newborn to four through interactive songs and dance.

Love said she has seen more families almost every week, and the program functions to promote social, emotional, cognitive, motor and language early development in children.

Aside from the preschool playgroups hosted by parks and recreation in partnership with Lynchburg City Schools, she said there’s nothing else quite like this in the community.

Assistant City Manager John Hughes said the Bridges to Progress initiative is especially glad to support programs that facilitate bonding between caregivers and children.

“The programs that we do at neighborhood centers, not only for a certain economic demographic, help to alleviate some of the family barriers that occur within our population,” Hughes said.

As Love started the music Wednesday morning, caregivers and children trickled into the neighborhood center until five families, with eight total children, were being led in a march around the circle. They played with instruments and brightly colored cloth and rejoiced in the utter cacophony of eight sets of tiny hands banging together sticks.

Larissa Campbell, mother of Edelyn and Elise, said she has been coming for a couple weeks now, ever since she found out the program was free.

“It’s really great for my girls to get out,” she said. “They love it.”

Despite not being “musically inclined” herself, she said, through the program her daughters can get that experience and interact with a variety of different instruments and the other children around them.

“I think it is really great for their little minds,” she said, “for them to get to explore things they normally wouldn’t get to explore.”

Jennifer Jones, director of parks and recreation, said the program would not be possible for many families without the grant funding and access to the neighborhood centers. It supports physical fitness and family togetherness, two values of the department.

Jones said she loves the department is beginning a “feeder program” for dance, aerobics, CrossFit, athletics and music at such a “young impressionable age.”

Love hopes to see the program continue to grow until she can begin offering even more sessions. Week to week, more of the toddlers begin to recognize her, are reaching for the instruments or miming the dance before she has to give them direction. They crowd around her during free play, and are excited to walk through the door and jump right into the action.

“It does my heart good,” Love said.

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