YAKIMA, Wash. - People at more than 50 events today in about 35 Washington communities are observing "Lights On Afterschool," an annual event celebrating programs that keep children safe and learning in the hours after the school day.
They're also congratulating administrators of the programs for managing to stay open despite budget cuts, which have curtailed hours and staff, and even limited the numbers of children and teens they can serve.
Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin is among those receiving an award this year from the group School's Out Washington
for his support of after-school programs. Irwin says those in law enforcement know their importance.
"It's always hard to quantify prevention, but anecdotally, I can tell you any time you can keep kids occupied, supervised, doing something constructive, you're far, far ahead."
After-school care providers are concerned that the latest federal decision to allow states to opt out of some "No Child Left Behind" requirements could jeopardize their programs. It would allow schools to use the money for other purposes. Schools are the state's largest providers of after-school care.
For the programs in his area, Irwin says, fundraising is a constant challenge. While parents appreciate the after-school activities, he says, others in the community don't always understand their value.
"The parents are right in the thick of it all the time, but we have to continually remind those that no longer have kids at home that it's a changing world and we need to step up and find ways to keep the kids engaged in healthy activities."
Irwin's advice to adults - whether or not they have children - is to find a local after-school program and donate time, money or supplies. He says it benefits an entire community when young people are safe and supervised.
Yakima will hold its "Lights On Afterschool" celebration from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Yakima Convention Center, 10 N. Eighth St. A list of events around Washington is online at afterschoolalliance.org