Alaska afterschool programs pay big dividends, but need help now

Author: Ciara Johnson

What do 80 percent of women business owners in America have in common? They were Girl Scouts. That’s right, those entrepreneurs were once little salespeople practicing their accounting and marketing skills on Thin Mints and hungry grocery store customers.

The brilliance of after-school programs like the Girls Scouts of America lies in more than just the opportunity they provide kids to practice real-world skills. Research shows that kids who are connected to supportive adults and participate in organized activities are more likely to take care of their own health, build up savings, take on leadership roles, and are less likely to be involved in underage drinking, drug use, and violence.

Youth involved in after-school activities are also more likely to succeed in high school and graduate on time, which is exactly why the 90% by 2020 community partnership — led by local businesses, the Anchorage School District, and community organizations — is bringing Anchorage after-school programs together. They are sitting down with the data, looking at their impact on educational outcomes, and aligning practices to pack a bigger punch.

Today is a national day of advocacy to make sure we keep the “Lights on Afterschool” (and weekends and summer vacation) as promoted by the national Afterschool Alliance. Alaska celebrates these programs and the vital role they play in our communities, especially for parents like Rebecca, a working mom whose son participates in Camp Fire after school. She says, “I know my son is safe, learning, and having fun while I work. And the staff are reinforcing values and positive behaviors that will help him become a good citizen.”

In Anchorage, programs like Camp Fire, 21st Century Schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and YMCA operate in or near schools all over the city. All seek out donations and grant funding so they can provide a safe, enriching place for kids who come from families of all income levels — a place where children and youth can find meaningful opportunities, ask for help with homework, create healthy relationships with their peers, and find positive role models to inspire them.

With all the good work these programs do to help our kids thrive, unfortunately, we do not have enough to meet demand. The Afterschool Alliance’s “America After 3 p.m.” report shows there are almost 40,000 Alaskan children who would likely participate in an after-school program if one was available in their area.

Today, make a commitment to keep the “Lights on Afterschool” for Alaska’s kids. Invest in them — when you vote, when you volunteer, and when you Pick.Click.Give. Donate some of that big Permanent Fund dividend, because those young citizens will give you, our economy and our state quite the dividend themselves someday.

Ciara Johnson is project coordinator at Anchorage Youth Development Coalition, an organization dedicated to collaboration and professional development for youth serving organizations.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)