SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — With school starting this month, hundreds of kids are also returning to afterschool programs.

Those first-day jitters and excitement aren’t just for the kids.

“It’ll be my first year being in a new site. So meeting the kids is the best thing about being in this job,” an Assistant Director with the SOAR Afterschool Program, Jefferson Gideon said.

It will be Gideon’s first full school year with SOAR, a non-profit with a critical mission.

“Fill in the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the workday for the hardworking families in our community where we’re providing students an environment where they’re learning, building communication skills, learning to build healthy relationships and just developing the overall skills that they need for success in their lives in the future,” SOAR’s Dir. of Operations Abby Smith said.

The goal is to have this service for everyone in the community, which is why people like Gideon are so valuable. He is Marshallese and knows firsthand the challenges of growing up speaking a different language.

“It’s very hard for teachers to work with Marshallese kids because the culture there is different. So growing up in a different environment, it’s really difficult for someone to be in that position,” Gideon said.

Then there is Vanesa Echeveriia, one of the site directors who can speak Spanish.

“If they have a need or they are wanting to talk something more in private instead of being a three-person conversation, it can just be the two of us,” she said.

This diversity is helping kids of all backgrounds reach their true potential. Echeveriia has seen the growth in her students.

“I can definitely see it with our kids leadership, speaking skills. A lot of times they come in and they’re like shy. They don’t want to speak and they don’t want to try a lot of things. But at the end of the year they are speaking non-stop,” she said.

“They’re the next generation of people that are going to be coming up hopefully in my job, and so that’s long-term impact on the community,” Smith said.

SOAR uses a lot of volunteers for events, learning or teaching kids different activities like soccer. To learn more, click here.