Walking the Question of Future or What is an Afterschool Program?

October 9, 2010

Walk with us for a while.  Another eight months to be exact.  Well, maybe a little longer to be really exact.  Thanks to a grant, the Mission started an afterschool program in September.  We wondered if we should though!  The grant nearly funds the nine months of the school year, but we wondered, “Is it fair to start an afterschool program, run it for one year, and then shut it down because all the funding comes from one pot—one donor?” and “Will we be able to raise the money from other folks after this year?”  Seemed like a fair question and it still seems fair.  In the end though, we figured two things.  One, if youth in a rural community of extreme poverty receive opportunities over the course of one year they would not otherwise receive, it cannot hurt, can it?!  Based on that thought we figured what would be best is be honest with those who arrive and tell them this program might last for one year, and say we will do our best to make it the best year possible!  Second, how do we know there isn’t support “out there” for a program that will make a difference in the lives of our youth?  Therefore, we started the program last month and are inviting you to walk with us through this school year.  Walk with us, listen to the stories, and consider during this journey if you might help fund the program during the 2011-2012 school year.

As of now, the afterschool program has not a name.  One of the young women, a high school junior, came up with the first consideration yesterday.  My Future.  Good or bad?  Well, now I am not sure, but then how much voice do I have or should I have?  Should names rise up organically within the population who live the program, or should it meet the needs of a fundraiser who wants the just right name that pulls at the heartstring and calls people to give?  What do you think?

Well, that is where we stand today with the unnamed as of yet afterschool program.  So, why don’t we begin this journey with one quick reflection?

The few youth who are currently coming are involved youth.  Being involved, they arrive most every day, but not always “right after school.”  They have other things going on in their lives: FFA (otherwise known as Future Farmers of), for example.  There were a few days two weeks ago when no one showed up after school because they at the Central Washington State Fair setting up the FFA booth.  We knew this activity is good in the lives of these young people, but at the same time felt bad because no one was at the Mission.  (You know how it is, you start something and you want success from the beginning!)  Then we got it.  If we’re going to be community, then we need to be where community is.  We realized we were working out of a framework for afterschool programs that has its roots in urban and suburban communities.  Instead, we should be considering the slower, trust building, “hanging in community,” rural model that has made the Summer Fun Program so successful over the last twelve years.  So, we packed up, got in the car, and drove forty-five minutes, paid our entry fee, and hung out at the fair.

Wouldn’t you know it, we wandered the alleys, aisles, and fairways, and never ran into one youth who’s attended the afterschool program so far.  However, we did run into a number of fourth and fifth graders who attend the summer program.  We ran into parents.  We talked with young adults who have been in programs over the years.  We talked with them at the Red Cross booth where they were signing up donors.  We stood beside them and watched a young man furiously spin a contraption that made slaw from cabbage in seconds—I wondered how his arm felt at the end of the day.  We sat with them eating lamb burgers.  We walked with them through animal barns talking about the cows, sheep, and goats, and wondered just how long it took to have hair and wool gleam so bright.  We wandered with them through lines of tractors and stopped to listen to old single cylinder engines methodically (melodiously?) singing, chunk—chink, chink, chink—chunk—chink, chink, chink—chunk.  Finally, after finding the Dairy Association’s booth and getting ice cream cones, we ran into the White Swan FFA booth.

Pahto stood out against a blue background with all the majesty ancient ground should have.  Below it flowed the Yakima River and the canal system that make the Yakama valley the agricultural wonder it is.  In the midst of it all rose up the produce of the valley, red and yellow and green and blended color apples, dark green and light green pears, hops and wine grapes and yellow corn, and across the front a simple reminder that animals and people make up the agricultural landscape as well.

I do not know if this is the right way to begin an afterschool program.  I do not know if there is a right way.  Nevertheless, it is the way we have begun a journey which we hope to walk a while.

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