Imagine a world where no matter what the local zip code is, a child has a chance to learn, enjoy and become proud of his or her accomplishments while participating in quality after-school classes and summer camp.
Every year for the past 20 years, that vision has been a reality for 250 underserved elementary school children in Mount Vernon, thanks to Amazing Afternoons, an enrichment program at Edward Williams School, which has been funded by state grants arranged through Westchester Jewish Community Services.
But its time is up.
News emerged last week that the program will not operate next school year. Despite repeated attempts by WJCS to engage and urge the Mount Vernon City School District administration to renew the partnership and provide the necessary documentation so WJCS could reapply for funding for the programs, the June 18 deadline for application submission passed without a response from the school district.
Off the Streets, a similar program at Hamilton Elementary School in Mount Vernon, will close for the same reason.
This is a huge loss, not only for our neighbors, but also for many of our residents. Dozens if not hundreds of teens and adults from Scarsdale schools and congregations have volunteered many hours with the program as academic tutors or teaching art, dance, cheerleading, field hockey, or helping with extracurricular clubs and activities in subjects the Mount Vernon kids would not have any exposure to through their regular school.
In the Inquirer’s Page One article this week, comments from volunteers and others who put their hearts and souls into supporting the program reflect the deep connections and life-changing experiences shared by people in both communities throughout the years.
Former Scarsdale resident Dorothy Yewer, another champion of Amazing Afternoons for more than a decade, created an annual concert to raise money for kids from the program to attend camp in the summer. She said the Mount Vernon community relied on the program in so many ways. It kept kids off the streets. It offered them stimulating environments in which they could grow mentally and emotionally and physically. It provided the kids with nutritious snacks and gave them creative and social outlets not provided in any other way. It was a place for Mount Vernon elementary school students, many of whom became peer leaders in the program once they entered high school, to grow and succeed while working on scholarship and community involvement.
The termination of Amazing Afternoons is devastating news for the kids who otherwise might be at risk. Without it, they will have very few, if any, options when their school day ends, and less programming to stimulate them socially or academically.
For many of the children, it means an empty summer as well. Amazing Afternoons provided a chance for the families of the children to apply for scholarships to Chappaqua-based Wagon Road Camp, so the program’s demise means the loss of opportunities year-round.
We live in a completely different world. In our affluent community, most of us can easily pay for our kids to take a gym class, go to camp or be part of a club. We never go hungry. We always have a roof over our heads.
Let’s make it our work to find a way to replace or retrench these afterschool academies — expensive programs funded by the state — that received outstanding reviews from the Mount Vernon City School District and New York State Office of Children and Family Services
There was a time several years ago when public funding for Amazing Afternoons was not available and the program teetered on the verge of closing its doors. It was rescued by private donations, which helped keep it going until the state grants were renewed.
Each year for more than a decade, thanks to funding provided by the Scarsdale Foundation, our local rec camps have served 10 to 15 children in kindergarten through eighth grade through the Carver Center in Port Chester. The funding to support those rec campers is raised though private donations.
Another program that depends on tax-deductible contributions, Scarsdale’s Student Transfer Education Plan (STEP), is in its 53rd year as an independent community program that identifies promising minority students and enables them to attend Scarsdale High School for their junior and senior years while living with a Scarsdale host family.
With our long history of supporting underserved children, now is the time to write a new chapter by using our tremendous resources – financially or through personal connections — to help find new sources of support that will keep amazing things happening in Mount Vernon.