13-year-old Rayna Hess belted “Put Your Records On” from the stage as children from local schools sat around a long table, constructing gingerbread houses with graham crackers, icing and holiday-colored gumdrops. They are all part of the after school program at Myrt and Lucy’s Chat & Chew.

Before opening Myrt and Lucy’s Chat & Chew downtown at 414 Broadway in 2015, owner Marijo Zietlow volunteered at Spring Hill Elementary School. “I knew once we opened, I wouldn’t have enough time to go over there,” Zietlow said. “I had to figure out ways to get students here so that I could still feel like I was helping, teaching and offering a safe environment for kids to be able to just hangout and have somewhere to go.”

Even though the program has been around for about two years, Zietlow said it has really taken off this school year. They have about nine consistent student participants, she said—including Hess.

Before moving to the area a year and a half ago, Hess visited Myrt and Lucy’s with her family to sing at open mic nights. Since joining the program, she comes every Thursday she can to participate and perform.

“Getting up in front of family members and people I don’t really know well guides me toward my goal,” said Hess, who dreams of being a singer. “The more I came, the more it was easier to do it.”

“There’s not too many places that just open their building and open their arms for kids to feel out what they’re dreaming of, what they’re inspired for,” Zietlow said.

Boosting her confidence on stage isn’t the only way the after school program benefited Hess. She said it helped her meet a lot more people. “It kind of became like a little family here,” she said.

Eleven-year-old Nick Meller said he loves coming on Thursdays to hear Hess sing. “She’s got a really nice voice,” he said.

But before the festivities can begin, Zietlow said the students have to do their homework. Meller said he usually brings math.

“She (Zietlow) gives me strategies on how to solve it,” Meller said. “She doesn’t give me the answer because she wants me to try it first and then she walks me through it.” Meller credits the program for helping him improve in school.

Meller said his favorite part of the program is group crafts. Zietlow plans and supplies activities for the students with help and donations from parents and other local businesses. The children recently painted rocks and made cards to give to senior citizens at Wisconsin Dells Health Services, Zietlow said.

In the future, Zietlow said she wants to expand the activities to include cooking classes taught by her husband Matt, chef and co-owner of the restaurant, reading groups and a community question and answer forum.

Students of all ages are welcome every day after school until 8 p.m., except when the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays in the winter, Zietlow said. The youngest participant is three years old and the oldest is in high school. For more information on the program or to volunteer, visit Myrt and Lucy’s website, Facebook page or give the restaurant a call.