ORLANDO, Fla. – Faced with the challenge of keeping children on track during the pandemic, local mentoring organizations had to come up with new ways to keep running.
Opened in 2006, the Parramore Kidz Zone has given thousands of children in Orlando a place to go to be kids -- and so much more.
Queona Jones was one of those kids.
“I found another home,” said Jones.
Jones first walked through the doors of the downtown rec center and into the Kidz Zone with her sister a decade ago.
“I was the kid who stayed at the house,” said Jones. “And my sister, she was the adventurer. And one day, just a long story short, I’m like, ‘Where are you going? And what do you do when you go outside?’ And she would tell me she would come to these buildings and there were a lot of kids for her to play with and she told me she met a mentor, before you know it, I noticed there was a mentor and she would show up at our house daily.”
Now, the former Jones High Tiger works there. Jones’ title is program coordinator, but she’s many things to the hundreds of kids she serves.
“What do those kids mean to you?” asked News 6 Sports Director Jamie Seh.
“A lot. Being that we all came from the same community especially, so we relate. I know a lot of them look up to me, a majority of the kids I know from outside of work because we come from the same community,” said Jones.
Last spring, Jones and her colleagues faced the unexpected challenge of COVID. Early on, the pandemic closed the buildings that house the Kidz Zone. Since it’s young members couldn’t go to the Kidz Zone, Jones and company brought the Kidz Zone to them, going from home to home doing wellness checks.
“We all thought, you know, this is it, like what can we do, not even knowing there was so much we can do,” said Jones. “So just walking up, bringing kids popsicles, games, bags of clothing, if needed. Our kids were so excited and if anything, they didn’t want us to leave at times.”
“We’re providing the support that our students need, and that’s what means the most to us, is that we are creating productive citizens that can go to college or go to a certificate program or join the military and still have the skills they need,” said Dr. Patricia Reda, Kidz Zone Academic Coordinator.
The wellness checks got results. Weeks ago, the Parramore Kidz Zone celebrated its graduates. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, 100% of the Kidz Zone seniors graduated high school.
“That’s huge, that’s the largest class that we’ve ever had in PKZ history, and even last year we had 100% graduation rates, even with children finishing the second semester online,” said Reda.
“I needed the kids to know we were still there,” Jones said.
Even though the day we visited the Kidz Zone, kids were inside, laughing and playing, operations still aren’t quite back to normal.
Some kids haven’t returned to the building so the mission outside continues.
“We’re still making it happen, whatever it takes. That’s our motto and we make sure, we do whatever it takes,” said Jones.