By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
NEWTON—The later@Norm’s program for fifth and sixth graders has been around so long, a high school freshman who took part in it during its first year now volunteers there.
“It’s fun to start seeing it come full circle,” said Tami Lakey, strategic initiatives director of So Shine Foundation, the group that oversees Norm’s.
Later@Norm’s used to be at Norm’s Coffee Bar at 613 N. Main St., but now the program has moved to 724 N. Main St. They’ve been there since the beginning of February.
“Originally, we reached out to the owner of the space we needed more space because of COVID,” Lakey said, adding they didn’t have more kids—they just needed to spread them out more.
Right now, they have a short-term agreement with the owners through May and they’re thinking about staying longer.
“The more we’ve done in this space, the more we can see ourselves in this space more long term,” Lakey said.
The name later@Norm’s came from the kids telling each other, “See you later at Norm’s,” Lakey said.
“It stuck,” Lakey said.
The kids seem to like the place. During a program on Thursday, they were happy and engaged, and then afterward, some kids talked while others played air hockey.
One student, 11-year-old sixth grader Olivia Gonzalez, likes going there.
“’Cause all my friends come here and we get to laugh and play,” she said, taking an air hockey game break.
Another air hockey player, Olivia Navrat, who’s in the fifth grade, also enjoys it.
“My friends come here and I get to play games here,” she said.
Later@Norm’s is a safe place kids can go after school and it’s not very far from Santa Fe 5/6 Center.
“We’re about finished with our fourth school year,” Lakey said.
Their new space has large round tables, lots of chairs, a stage and air hockey game.
On Thursday, there were about 50 students there listening to a program presented by the STAND group, which is out of Mirror, Inc. At one point, the presenter talked about vaping and why kids shouldn’t do that.
The program included the kids playing Cahoot.
“It’s interactive,” Lakey said. “They log into it on computers or phones.”
Later@Norm’s has programs for students from time to time.
“These are the kinds of things we like to bring in for students,” Lakey said, adding a couple of weeks ago, a dental hygienist gave a talk on the effects of sugar on one’s teeth and she handed out toothbrush kits.
Later@Norm’s attendance has been down since the pandemic hit. Lakey said the highest attendance they had before the pandemic started was 125 kids.
There’s no cost to parents or students for the program.
There’s a reason Lakey likes having this program around.
“I attended Santa Fe as a fifth and sixth grader,” she said. “Those were hard years for me, so we just want to provide a safe place for them to hang out with their friends and people in the community.”
In addition to a large gathering room with the big tables, a front room is set up with a number of chess boards. Lakey said they’re in need of community members to teach the kids how to play chess.
“I would love to see some retired guys come and teach 10-year-old boys how to play chess,” Lakey said.
Later@Norm’s is open after school to 5 p.m., any day schools are in session.
Later@Norm’s has a registration system, which they started with the pandemic, in case they needed to do any contact tracing.
“Any student is welcome to come—fifth and sixth grade,” Lakey said.
Unless the people are volunteers, parents or students, they’re not allowed beyond the second entrance door.
“We’re going to keep moving forward to keep going in this space,” Lakey said.
About four weeks ago, the So Shine Foundation started a Wednesday night dinner called, The Table, and they meet at the later@Norm’s location.
“Anybody can come,” Lakey said. “It’s fun. We are collaborating with First United Methodist Church. They’re preparing the dinner there and bringing it over and serving it.”
The church is quite close to later@Norm’s.
Lakey said her family always eats dinner at the table together and that rarely happens with families anymore.
“I think that’s important,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of connectedness, especially now. We have Norm’s as a ‘third place,’ and now we have another one. It brings me a lot of joy to see that.”
They also want to connect families to each other and the community.
“We have been so blessed to have a space that is fresh and new and move-in ready,” Lakey said.
They’re also planning to do a food pantry, but first they wanted to get The Table off the ground.
Donations and funds
Proceeds from Norm’s Coffee Bar fund most of later@Norm’s, but as they work into moving into the new space, Lakey said they’ll need more money.
Those wishing to donate for the program can donate at the Norm’s location at 613 N. Main St. Send a check to that location or donate online at soshinefoundation.com.