Colorful youth leader lives for her job
Wanda Fleur’s shoulder-length hair is dyed red, purple, pink, blond, orange, green, and blue. But trust her on this one: She’s not trying to make a fashion statement.
“It’s not even for me anymore,” admitted a smiling Fleur, 47, the newest leader of the after-school and summer youth programs at the Payne Ave. Salvation Army in St. Paul. “It’s for the kids. It gives them something to talk about. They’re always saying, ‘What’d you do this time?’ They love it.”
About 30 of those kids, in grades K–6, attend the after-school program. Another 25-and-counting are registered for the 2016 summer program. Both programs feature food, fun activities, tutoring, sports, Bible lessons, and more.
The programs are vital to the children they serve.
“When some of our kids go home, nobody is there,” Fleur said. “They let themselves in, watch TV, and go to bed when they want. Their parents are absent.”
Fleur, her staff, and a group of teen volunteers do what they can to fill that void. They are a positive influence on the children every second they’re together.
“I love that bus – the kids have been taking really good care of it,” Fleur said.
The woman knows buses: She worked as a bus driver for about seven years in the mid-2000s.
Fleur’s other previous jobs and life experiences have made her the perfect fit for her role as youth leader:
- She has firsthand knowledge of Salvation Army youth programs because she grew up in them, attending the West 7th Salvation Army in St. Paul from about 1979–1987.
- She spent two years of her 10-year career with the U.S. Air Force working as an air traffic controller, one of the most stressful jobs on earth. As such, handling the stress that comes with overseeing dozens of inner-city kids is – shall we say – child’s play.
- She has a way with program kids who suffer from anger or mental health issues because members of her own family have lived with the same challenges. “There isn’t anything these kids can do that’s going to surprise me,” she said.
Fleur believes the youth programs are important because they give the children a sense of belonging.
“They feel accepted,” she said. “This is a place where nobody is talked down to. It’s a place where nobody feels stupid.”
It’s also a place of academic growth. This past school year, every child who participated in a special literacy program gained at least one reading level. The program, called Mission: Literacy, uses Bible stories to teach reading. Each child’s success was measured by their ability to read 30 sentences of increasing difficulty.
“At the beginning of the program, one of our first-graders couldn’t read any of the sentences,” Fleur said. “At the end of it, she read 25 of them.”
Those are the kinds of success stories Fleur adores.
“Even on a bad day, I love this job,” she said.
The Salvation Army operates similar youth programs at six other locations throughout the Twin Cities. Please join The Salvation Army by volunteering or making a donation to support your local community.