Keep the light on

Hous­ing Au­thor­ity af­ter­school pro­gram dan­ger­ously low on op­er­a­tional funds

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Am­ber Pittman

The of­fi­cial kick­off for the Lights on Af­ter­school pro­gram at the Cov­ing­ton Hous­ing Au­thor­ity may be the beginning of the end for the stu­dents it serves, be­cause un­less fund­ing is found quickly, the pro­gram is com­pletely out of money.

What orig­i­nally be­gan as a sum­mer pro­gram to ser­vice only the chil­dren who re­side in the Cov­ing­ton Hous­ing Au­thor­ity soon mor­phed into an af­ter­school pro­gram that helps 20-30 chil­dren a day. Though the af­fil­i­a­tion with the na­tional Lights on Af­ter­school pro­gram is new, the pro­gram it­self is not. Di­rec­tor Lil­lian Bit­taye has been af­fil­i­ated with the af­ter­school and sum­mer pro­gram at the hous­ing au­thor­ity since 2006.

“This pro­gram just helps us shed more light on the sit­u­a­tion,” said Bit­taye. “Our goal is try­ing to in­crease ser­vices for th­ese kids that don’t even have a play­ground. Also, we need more af­ter school pro­grams be­cause there are only four around Cov­ing­ton. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to high­light the fact that we do ex­ist and we des­per­ately need the com­mu­nity’s sup­port.”

The pro­gram, which is also known as Let the Chil­dren Live, op­er­ates solely on grants and do­na­tions, as well as help from vol­un­teers from around the com­mu­nity and Ox­ford Col­lege. Ini­tially stu­dents were given snacks af­ter school, but beginning Aug. 16, they be­gan serv­ing full meals — an in­cen­tive to get the chil­dren to come to the pro­gram.

“We had kids get­ting off their buses and com­ing straight in to get some­thing to eat. For a lot of them that would be all they got for the evening,” Bit­taye said. “A lot of th­ese kids don’t have food at home and it’s hard to teach a hun­gry child, so we tried to pro­vide some­thing to fill their bel­lies so they could fo­cus on their home­work. Also, th­ese kids wouldn’t show up if we didn’t feed them. They just wouldn’t come. So it’s away to get them here and then we can fo­cus on their school­work.”

This, ac­cord­ing to Bit­taye, has caused their mea­ger funds to be de­pleted faster than nor­mal. “We just re­ceived our last grants— one for $2,500 and one for $300 — and they didn’t last long,” she said, adding that money went for food, arts and crafts and school sup­plies

Bit­taye said the pro­gramwas, at one point not too long ago, help­ing with home­work as well as fo­cus­ing on nutri­tion, fit­ness and arts and crafts. It helped give the chil­dren some­thing to do af­ter school and it kept them out of trou­ble, ac­cord­ing to Bit­taye.

The pro­gram was sup­posed to get a re­im­burse­ment of $1,500 for the sum­mer food pro­gram they pro­vided in the neigh­bor­hood from Good Hope Bap­tist Church but Bit­taye says they have yet to see that money. She also had high hopes that the 14 dif­fer­ent grants she ap­plied for lo­cal­ly­would ma­te­ri­al­ize, but four of those or­ga­ni­za­tions have turned her down and the other 10 have not replied at all.

“We will only be able to con-

for a lim­ited time and only be­causet­inue the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity has agreed to pro­vide snacks — not meals — for a lim­ited time,” said Bit­taye. “And the stu­dents un­der­stand that without the fund­ing they can­not have this pro­gram,” she said, beginning to cry. “Some of th­ese chil­dren have ben­e­fit­ted tremen­dously from this pro­gram — and it’s hard with the com­mu­nity we are work­ing with. You are deal­ing with peo­ple who are not well ed­u­cated them­selves so it’s hard to get them to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of this pro­gram.”

Bit­taye had hoped to be able to as­sist some of the par­ents in the com­mu­nity as well by of­fer­ing a GEDpro­gram and com­puter as­sis­tance dur­ing the day, as well as a Tiny Tots read­ing pro­gram that would al­low young chil­dren to be ex­posed to read­ing at an early age and maybe start school more pre­pared than they are at this point.

“We can­not pro­vide qual­ity pro­grams without fund­ing so it is im­per­a­tive that we find some­one in the com­mu­nity that be­lieves that what we are do­ing is worth­while,” she said.“With the econ­omy be­ing in the state it is in, it has been hard to find donors that will com­mit. We’re hop­ing things will turn around by the first of the year but most of th­ese kids can’t wait that long. We unof­fi­cially stopped the pro­gram on Oct. 16,” she said.

The stu­dents in­volved in the pro­gram have even tried to raise money for the pro­grams at com­mu­nity events like the Fuzz Run and the Lit­er­acy Fes­ti­val. Ac­cord­ing to Bit­taye they raised $50 at one event and $35 at the other — just enough to pro­vide meals for a day.

“Without the food the chil­dren won’t come and once they are here we can help them with their home­work. The only way they’ll show up is if there is food and the only way we can help them is if they show up,” said Bit­taye. “Un­less we can find a pri­vate donor I don’t know what we’re go­ing to do. We have noth­ing.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about the pro­gram con­tact Bit­taye at (770) 572-8995.

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Shin­ing bright: Stu­dents in the care of the Cov­ing­ton Hous­ing Au­thor­ity Af­ter­school pro­gram march down the side­walk to­wards a field where the chil­dren held a bal­loon release to cel­e­brate the Lights on Af­ter­school Rally for af­ter­school pro­grams Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

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