Need soars, funds iffy for after-school program | AspenTimes.com

Need soars, funds iffy for after-school program

A successful after-school program in the Roaring Fork Valley is facing funding challenges at a time when it might be needed most.

The Access Roaring Fork After-school Program provides a variety of activities for kids in the middle schools of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Some of the activities offered are an extension of school, like homework help, computer classes, art and music. Less traditional classes are also available, like Red Cross baby-sitting certification, Junior Achievement and a construction-engineering program that draws on help from local professionals. The cost to the kids is $10 per course, per semester.

About 55 kids per school per school day are enrolled.

“We’re already exceeding that in Basalt. We’ve got 40 kids in homework help alone,” said Steve Kaufman, executive director of Access Roaring Fork and founder of the after-school program.

The idea is to give kids something constructive to do when they otherwise might be returning to an empty house because their parents are working, Kaufman said. The program is designed to keep them busy on the theory that idle hands can engage in mischief and potentially in criminal activity.

The program is run with the cooperation of the RE-1 school district. It has received endorsements from Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson and other law enforcement officials.

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Kaufman said the demand for the program is growing because of the recession. Parents in many families are working harder than ever to make ends meet, so there are more latch-key kids returning to empty houses. The number of middle school kids receiving reduced price or free lunches at the middle schools of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs soared this year, Kaufman said. He believes there is a correlation between tough economic times and the need for programs like the after-school classes.

The school district confirmed that the percentage of children in the free and reduced-price lunch program is climbing. In Basalt, 47 percent of the kids in middle school are getting aid for lunch this year compared to 27 percent just two years ago.

In Carbondale Middle School, the number of children receiving aid for lunch climbed from 50 percent in 2007 to 62 percent this year, according to the school district. In Glenwood, the number climbed from 26 percent to 39 percent.

Just as the recession is biting into families’ budgets, it’s putting local governments in a pinch. Basalt town government contributed $21,000 to the after-school program in its 2010 budget. While Kaufman is grateful for that contribution, it won’t cover the estimated $113,000 to administer the program in Basalt Middle School. Help is needed from Eagle County and Pitkin County, according to Kaufman.

He said the Pitkin County commissioners didn’t want to hear about the program when he appeared at one of their meetings recently. They were more concerned that he had missed their formal process for a grant request. Kaufman said work is under way to ask them to reconsider. He also will make a formal request to the Eagle County commissioners. Basalt is divided between Eagle and Pitkin counties.

“It’s really going to be a struggle to cover Basalt without Eagle County,” Kaufman said.

Carbondale has become the after-school program’s model for funding. The Carbondale town government contributed $16,000 for 2009 and Garfield County contributed $25,310.

The county has indicated it will up its ante since it is assisting the program in both Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, Kaufman said. He also anticipates a healthy contribution from the town of Carbondale.

Other major contributors for 2010 are Aspen Community Foundation for $32,000 and Laurie Michaels Bonderman for $40,000, according to Kaufman.

He is concentrating on shoring up funding for the program in Basalt. Realistically, a shortage will mean “far fewer” activities, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com