Escambia Children’s Trust invests $6 million in after-school programs

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There will be nearly $6 million in new or expanded after-school, before-school, preschool and summer programs for children in Escambia County.

The Escambia Children’s Trust has already heard from more than a dozen local program coordinators and children’s service providers who have expressed interest in the trust’s new request for proposals focused on after-school programs.

The Trust has allocated $5,840,000 to invest in local after-school time programs, according to Kim Krupa, director of programs for the Escambia Children’s Trust, and will review them in the coming weeks.

“Time out of school is just a really, really important time,” said Trust chief executive Tammy Greer.

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“They can learn a new skill or play a sport, get tutoring, or do something positive,” Greer continued. “Or, it’s also the time of day when we see the most crime among young people and where children can also engage in risky behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol, having relationships unprotected sex or all the things that get them in trouble as a teenager because their parents are always at work, and basically they’re unsupervised.

The purpose of the trust is to distribute the nearly $6 million among various local programs considered worthy investments to improve the lives of young people and their families.

The trust is looking for programs that provide children with “fundamental skills and guidance that extend beyond” the classroom and help develop young people’s cognitive and social skills and emotional maturity.

Currently, Greer said, Escambia County doesn’t have “almost enough” after-school time programs.

“There just aren’t enough,” she said.

Over the past few months, Greer and other Children’s Trust staff have attended a “Youth Summit” where they listened to teenagers talk about the needs of their respective communities.

“They kept saying, ‘We have nothing to do. We have nowhere to go. We have nothing to do after school,” Greer recalls.

She added that there is a particular local need for affordable preschool programs.

“Another thing we see is that kindergarten readiness, or lack thereof, has been an issue for some time in Escambia County,” Greer said.

Research initiatives have led Children’s Trust management to hypothesize that many parents do not enroll their children in a free voluntary pre-kindergarten program because such programs last only a few hours a day.

“If you are a working parent, you will need to pick up the child and then take them to another location for care, as many VPK programs do not have a tracking component,” said she declared.

The trust therefore hopes to be able to fund innovative preschool programs.

But, again, the nearly $6 million funding will not be entirely focused just on preschoolers.

Rodney Jones, founder and operator of a teen services program, HOOPS Vocational Rehabilitation Career Camp, said he will definitely be one of the program coordinators responding to the request for proposals.

Left to right, Executive Director Rodney Jones, Marcus James, 17, and Elijha Parsons, 16, chat during a break from the "career camp" at the Healthy Opportunities and Options to Promote Success (HOOPS) program in Pensacola on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

“I’m hoping to secure funding for our work-based learning component where we help prepare young people for a career,” Jones said. “We welcome them, we teach them social skills, as well as soft skills like working on the computer, but more than that, we take them on field trips that broaden their horizons.

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While Jones has taken his students on field trips to places like the University of West Florida and Blue Wahoos Stadium, he said the trust funding will allow HOOPS to extend the distance and reach of his educational trips.

“I want to be able to take them to Florida State (University). I want to take them to the Capitol, so they can see people who come from small places, who may not have had anything, but who are still doing all these wonderful things with their lives now,” Jones said. “And I think that’s what we need to do for our young people who are growing up with nothing, we need to broaden their horizons, give them something they can aim for.”

Hassan Hills, the founder of the fledgling nonprofit Youths Left Behind Corp., said he would also respond to the tender.

Hassan Hills, founder of the new nonprofit Youths Left Behind Corp., stands at the corner of A and Jackson streets in Pensacola where, in his own youth, he dealt drugs.  He now works to empower the community he says he once had "helped destroy."

“The reason I’m excited to apply is that Youth Left Behind strives to create a respectful and responsible community for our youth living in our low income in our urban community,” Hills said.

If he gets funding, Hills plans to hire three retired teachers to join his nonprofit students and afternoon tutors.

James Washington, of the nonprofit James B. Washington Education and Sports Inc., said he hopes the nearly $6 million will be distributed fairly.

David Clark, Benny Washington and Lisa Bosarge discuss the future of the James B. Washington Education and Sports Inc. program during a tour of the organization's new building Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.

“We have about 120 kids in our program, and my concern is that often times the smaller nonprofits or African American nonprofits, we don’t get any funding or they want give us $10,000 for something like that,” Washington said.

Students attending the Washington nonprofit program’s afternoon school receive help with homework, a snack, and complete an academic tutorial before attending an in-house basketball practice , while avoiding trouble.

“A lot of these kids, they just walk outside and it’s infested with drugs. They walk outside, it’s gangs. They walk outside, they see police, people get arrested, people get shot” Washington said, “These kids, they deal with a lot of trauma.

“But if there’s nothing left for these kids, no after-school program, then they wouldn’t have a chance to succeed.”

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8680.

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