Urban Vision helps young Akron immigrants prepare for kindergarten success

Urban Vision On Your Mark Director Ba Bler works with Adney Rai on an art project.

Urban Vision On Your Mark Director Ba Bler works with Adney Rai on an art project.

When Ba Bler’s family moved from Thailand to Akron’s North Hill in 2006, learning a new language in a new country was challenging at first.

But Urban Vision Ministry helped ease the transition.

“When I moved here when I was young, I didn’t know any English and I had a difficult time adjusting to school and little hope of succeeding until my family found this community here at Urban Vision, and I’ve always wanted to teach and help others learn and succeed,” said Bler.

Bler, a longtime volunteer with Urban Vision, now serves as director of the nonprofit’s On Your Mark early childhood program.

The majority of the children in the On Your Mark program are Karen, an ethnic group from Myanmar, or from other countries where English is not their first language. So assimilating to education in America can be difficult for these 3- and 4-year-olds to manage.

“We created this On Your Mark program for kids to get a head start in learning the basic alphabet and learning how to behave in the classroom,” Bler said. “We focus on social, emotional, spiritual and academic needs for these children to get them ready for kindergarten.”

Donate to the Millennium Fund for Children.

Donate to the Millennium Fund for Children.

The On Your Mark kindergarten readiness program was recently named one of 33 organizations awarded a total of $55,000 in grants through the Millennium Fund for Children, a partnership of the Akron Beacon Journal and the Akron Community Foundation. Since the Millennium Fund launched in 1999, it has distributed nearly $950,000 in grants to local groups that benefit children in the region.

Bler, who recently graduated from the University of Akron with a degree in early childhood education, is excited that the program is a recipient of a $2,000 Millennium Fund grant.

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“This grant will help us to provide more snacks and play equipment for the children, and will help expand our program,” Bler said.

Tho Tho Da, the assistant to Urban Vision’s executive director, also participated in student programs at Urban Vision beginning in third grade, before eventually interning in 2016 and becoming a full-time employee in 2020 after graduating from the University of Akron with a degree in business administration.

Tho Tho D is the assistant to the executive director of Urban Vision Ministry in Akron.

Tho Tho D is the assistant to the executive director of Urban Vision Ministry in Akron.

Like Bler, Da saw firsthand the good work that Urban Vision was doing for the youth of the North Hill community and knew she wanted to give back to the place that shaped most of her formative years in Akron.

“I really love being part of the Urban Vision family,” Da said. “Everyone here has made a big impact on me. Whether they are the staff members or volunteers, they helped me grow as a leader today.”

Da said the grant funds “will go towards strengthening our program and helping the large refugee and immigrant child population here in North Hill continue to have opportunities to learn English for the first time and transition to kindergarten and academic success.”

Urban Vision, which began in Elizabeth Park before moving to its current North Hill location on 749 Blaine Ave., is a nonprofit Christian organization that provides support to students from kindergarten through high school, as well as adults.

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The On Your Mark program, which runs Monday through Friday, offers two different sessions, one for 3-year-olds in the morning and one for 4-year-olds in the afternoon. Children in these programs are offered a variety of activities, from puzzle making and time spent with building blocks, to writing practice and learning basic numbers and alphabet.

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Children also have time to roam around the indoor gym and opportunities to participate in Bible study.

“What we are doing here to bridge the educational gap for these students to get them ready for kindergarten-level work is so important and it’s amazing that the Millennium Fund recognizes the work we are doing to help the children in our community,” said Bler.

Urban Vision, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, also has the Set on Success Foundations program, an after-school program for children in kindergarten through fifth grades. The Servant-Leadership program for sixth through 12th graders teaches students how to be disciples for Christ within their own neighborhoods, according to the website.

Programs for adults include the Crossings Akron program, which consists of adult English classes, as well as the Legacies of Success program, which teaches housing and financial education.

Reporter Anthony Thompson can be reached at [email protected]

This article originally appeared on the Akron Beacon Journal: Urban Vision helps young Akron immigrants get kindergarten ready