Within the community of Warrensburg, Missouri, lies a sanctuary for young minds – the Warrensburg R6 Adventure Club. Led by the passionate and seasoned advocate for child enrichment, Casey Conklin, this program has blossomed into a haven where every child, regardless of economic background, finds a place to thrive.

“I think the cool thing about Adventure Club is that we are the largest program to serve school-aged children in every economic demographic in our community, so we really fight to make sure we can continue to offer services to all.”

Nestled within a district that is influenced by the University of Central Missouri and Whiteman Air Force Base, the Adventure Club caters to the diversity of Warrensburg. There’s an ebb and flow of families, influenced by the transient nature of military life, adding a dynamic layer to the program’s fabric.

“We get kids for about a year, two years, then they end up going to another base. So there’s a lot of transitional moments happening sometimes with a portion of our families,” Casey explains.

But amidst these transitions, the Adventure Club stands as a steadfast anchor, providing stability, support and a sense of belonging to every child who enters. Through a partnership with UCM’s Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic, the program embraces a holistic approach to child development, nurturing not just academic excellence but also emotional well-being.

“We have a partnership with therapists at UCM,” Casey says, underlining the program’s commitment to fostering self-awareness and resilience in every child. “One thing I want when kids leave this program is to know themselves better. To have a better understanding of themselves, emotionally, socially, and physically. When they leave us, I want them to feel valued.”

At the heart of the Adventure Club philosophy lies a deep reverence for nature’s transformative power. With two flourishing children’s gardens run by a partnership with MU Extension Master Gardeners, the program offers children a hands-on journey from seed to harvest. They have the opportunity to learn self-sustainability through gardening and to control what they put in their bodies.

Vicky, a retired teacher in charge of coordination for the garden, originally started one of the gardens when she was a teacher in the district. It has expanded into something extraordinary, with an orchard among its many facets. There are bird feeders, birdhouses and bat houses in the gardens, with hopes of an owl house soon. There are picnic tables where the kids can sit and observe things that happen in nature. The possibilities for exploration are endless.

The program’s goals are clear, Casey goes on to explain: “We focus on giving children the experience to plant, grow and nurture their bodies with what they’ve grown. There are a lot of simplified lessons, and we offer a lot of education to parents also about how they can grow their food.”

The gardens teach patience in children since they plant something you can’t immediately see. They anticipate the plants coming out of the dirt and getting nurtured by the sun, and eventually offering them food to nurture their body. It’s not immediately gratifying. Children get to learn how to anticipate things and plan for their future.

In the garden, amidst the scent of herbs and the buzz of bees, children discover not just the process of cultivation, but also the profound connection between humanity and the natural world. Kids who may struggle with regulation find sanctuary in the gardens. Every child has the opportunity to practice breathing exercises and be influenced by the calming nature of the aromas of sage and lavender that grow in the herb garden. They stimulate other senses too. They can feel the fuzzy plants in the garden and experience aspects that you wouldn’t otherwise consider.

“Being outside in general helps kids with their mental health,” Casey reflects. “I think being away from electronics is best .… There’s constant overstimulation with screens on.”

As the Adventure Club continues to flourish, the vision for the future remains clear – a future where every child leaves with a deep-rooted sense of self-worth and a boundless curiosity for the world around them.

The Missouri AfterSchool Network (MASN) is hosted by the University of Missouri Extension’s 4-H Center for Youth Development with national and state funding provided by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, STEM Next Opportunity Fund and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.