Child programs in jeopardy
Support urged as grant for at-risk kids enters final year
Federal dollars used to steer Lawrence kids away from drugs and trouble are drying up.
With a $9 million grant one year from ending, local officials are beginning the search for ways to keep several high-profile youth programs running. It’s an investment in the future, those close to the programs say.
“Wouldn’t we as a community rather produce tax-paying adults than tax-absorbing adults?” City Commissioner Sue Hack said. “It’s critical to continue the support.”
About three years ago, Lawrence received the Safe Schools/Healthy Students federal grant. Its purpose was to combat substance abuse and violence and promote healthy development.
It’s the main funding source for WRAP, or Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities, Bert Nash’s in-school counseling program.
It also picks up most of the tab for Bigs in Schools, an in-school volunteer program organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County.
And it supports junior high after-school programs, drug and alcohol prevention initiatives, and early childhood services.
“It touches nearly every aspect of life – either in a preventative mode or a treatment mode – for our kids,” school board member Cindy Yulich said. “It is certainly pretty far-reaching.”
Officials hope the community will step up and give money to sustain the programs.
“Clearly, the task in front of us now is to begin a community discussion about the importance of these programs,” said David Johnson, chief executive editor of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
Yulich, Johnson, Hack and Chris Squier, the Lawrence school district’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students director, last week traveled to Arlington, Va., to attend a training session connected to the matter.
The conference was the first big step, Johnson said. They will form a steering committee to guide efforts. They will call on community leaders and potential donors for support.
“I’m confident that we can show the importance of the work that we’re doing,” Johnson said.
Spending money when children are young cuts down on future costs by keeping people out of the juvenile or adult justice system or other areas that cost money for taxpayers, Hack said.
“When we have healthy kids and healthy students, we have a healthy and safe community,” she said.
The Safe Schools grant was the coordinated effort of the federal departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice.
It contributes about $800,000 per year to the WRAP program, which is nearly 90 percent of WRAP’s budget, said Charlie Kuszmaul, program coordinator.
The grant allowed the program to expand into elementary schools, he said.
WRAP programs, which touched about 2,800 students in the 2004-05 school year, help reduce student discipline referrals, absentee rates, in and out of school suspensions, and other problem behaviors, Kuszmaul said.
It’s not just about helping kids in their school years, he said, but about helping them move toward productive adulthood.
“These kids just don’t go away,” Kuszmaul said. “They continue out into our community. If they don’t function well in schools, chances are they won’t function well in the community.”
Deb Keary, a WRAP worker, worked with a group of students in a Connections class at Woodlawn School on Wednesday. The class works to help kids resolve problems and bond with other students.
Keary said working in the schools helped remove the stigma of mental health.
“They just see us as part of the school,” she said.
And students, like 10-year-old Zena Keeton, like having WRAP workers around.
“When we talk to (Keary), she just makes you feel better,” Zena said.
The grant gives $90,000 annually to Big Brothers Big Sisters for a Bigs in Schools program that bring volunteers into Douglas County schools. The volunteers often eat lunch with students or help tutor them.
“We supply kids with caring adults,” said Becky Price, executive director of the Northeast Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Like WRAP, the volunteer program has been shown to curb substance abuse, violence and drop-out rates, Price said.
The grant has also filled in the needs for early childhood.
It helped renovate the early-childhood site, currently Brookcreek Learning Center on Lawrence High’s campus, and it also helped make the program sustainable, said Rich Minder of Success By Six. The Center offers childcare for teen parents.
It pays for additional family resource specialists who offer education and support to families at home.
About three years ago, when the state temporarily cut child-care subsidies for some families in need, Safe Schools funds helped pick up the tab for 29 children, Minder said.
The grant also supported an early childhood literacy marketing campaign, which included television and radio announcements and posters. And there have been other uses.
Working with the Safe Schools grant was an opportunity to draw the link between early childhood efforts and later substance abuse and violence, Minder said.
Such programs help parents, children and the community, he said.
“We have this assumption that parenting is sort of this isolating activity that parents do alone,” Minder said. “The reality is that parenting and family life is something that we all do together.”
Name: Safe Schools/Healthy Students
How much: $9 million
Purpose: To combat substance abuse and violence and promote healthy development
Funding source for: WRAP, or Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities, Bert Nash’s in-school counseling program; Bigs in Schools, an in-school volunteer program organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County; junior high after-school programs, drug and alcohol prevention initiatives and early-childhood services.