Cherry Street Youth Center: Chanute’s hidden gem

In a time when childcare at an affordable cost is, in a word, lacking, it might be strange to hear of an after-school program that cares for 125 children daily and is completely free. Cherry Street Youth Center in Chanute, Kansas, is a Christian outreach ministry where children are encouraged to learn about gardening, cooperation, and 3D printing while growing closer to God. Founded in 1995 out of a small house, Cherry Street has expanded operations to three locations in Chanute, where different ministries take place for children from kindergarten to middle school.

“Our goal as a Christian ministry is to help bring children closer to God,” said Jennifer Shields, executive director, “but we also want to help our kiddos be the best versions of themselves!”

Cherry Street is not a daycare, but rather a place for students to go after school and continue their education in a fun environment.

“We like to say that we are the ‘best kept secret’ in SEK,” Shields said. “We are so unique in what we do, and our goal is always to provide this free service to our community. We can’t do what we do without our community and their support! Grants and donations are how we make purchases for our classes and programming. We bought 3D printers so our kids could learn about programming and design! That would not be possible without donations and grants from the Community Foundation!”

Shields told the story of a little girl who came to the playground at Cherry Street one day to play with her friends during program hours. She was not a student of Cherry Street, due to policies and safety guidelines, only registered children can be on campus during program hours. Shields had to ask the girl to return home until 5:30, when the program ended.  Before sending the girl off, Shields asked her if she was interested in becoming a part of Cherry Street, and the little girl responded that her parents could not afford to send her there. “My heart broke, but I was so excited to tell her, ‘Sweetie, we are absolutely free! Let me send you home with some paperwork!’ She is now in 4th grade, and I see her almost daily,” Shields said.

Cherry Street serves not just as a place for fun but also as a place to encourage academic success for all children. Realizing many of the children attending the after-school program were not reading on grade level, Shields reached out to the elementary school principal to see how best to help. Cherry Street received sight word lists for every grade level from the elementary school to practice with the children. “We are all about our community, both in Chanute and Southeast Kansas as a whole! We just want people to know what we do and the positive impact we are making.”

The Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas is proud to have supported Cherry Street Youth Center as a 2023 General Funds Grant recipient for their 3D printer project. Through granting, CFSEK has also supported other projects at Cherry Street over the past five years. If you wish to donate to Cherry Street, you can visit