Mieko Scott, Founder of Imagine That Kids

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December 21, 2012
By Lisa Hewitt

Imagine That Kids, an Oakland non-profit, began in 2008 when Mieko Scott, a former kindergarten teacher, found herself laid off and frustrated with the educational system in California. “During my lay off I was thinking about what I could still do and I was very depressed…I started to see the affect I had on those kids and their families. It just didn’t sit well with me.” She knew she wanted to continue to work in education and with children but actively sought to work outside the system to effect change. By providing educational enrichment and resources to kindergarten through 5th grade students in Oakland and surrounding cities, Imagine That Kids strives to support students, their families, teachers and the local school system. Their focus is primarily on children of incarcerated parents, underprivileged, foster and homeless youth. Operating with just six staff people, this non-profit relies heavily on the contributions of volunteers, including many young people.

One of Imagine That Kids’ programs, which is sustained almost entirely by volunteers, is in partnership with the Oakland Unified School Police. A literacy program, it serves exclusively African American male students in first and second grade at Cole Elementary every summer.  Students from McClymonds High School volunteer their time and help tutor the students, while strengthening their own literacy abilities.

Beyond the literacy program, Imagine That Kids does six big give-aways every year beginning in January with a coat drive. As a One Warm Coat agency, Imagine That Kids solicits donations from retailers around the region and distributes the coats to families in need. It’s deliberately scheduled for after the holidays when donations dramatically decrease.

Additionally, in February they organize a mother-son dance called Boys Need Love, designed for boys typically 5 to 11 years old. Scott explains, “We created that because we found that a lot of boys are afraid of love. They think love is something nasty, it’s gay. Why should I hug? Why should I love? When I saw that I wanted to create something for them…The sons can come and respect their mothers and learn etiquette on how to behave.” The event highlights an essential aspect of Imagine That Kids’s mission: to involve parents. They hold an event called Oakland’s Parent Cafés, which are enrichment programs that allow parents to come together and share different parenting techniques they found to be effective.

Imagine That Kids works with a variety of community partners including KQED, which co-organize the Back to School Rally in Oakland’s City Hall every August. Imagine That Kids gives K-5 students backpacks with school supplies, lunch boxes filled with one days worth of lunch  with healthy snacks like sealable pineapple strips and apples, Quaker oat bars and bottles of water. Scott reflects that in her own life, she was able to succeed in school because she had every amenity she needed. She adds, “Having books and the resources and the pens and pencils and everything that we needed helped me not want. So I tried to think about what stuff I could do to help these kids succeed…The [Back to School Rally] supplies the kits…those are things that when you’re a low income family, it’s not a necessity.” The events and give-aways Imagine That Kids organizes serve an assortment of purposes. For instance, their mission is to give young people the resources they need to succeed in school and beyond, but at the same time they strive to instill vital life and social lessons in the young people about respecting their family, their peers, their teachers and themselves.

Imagine That Kids plans to deliver presents to families on Christmas Day. If you’d like to help out with this event or any other Imagine That Kids events please visit imaginethatkids.org.

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