Editor’s Note: Welcome new Breakfast Club Blogger, Femi Vance, Researcher at American Institutes for Research and President of the Board of Directors for CAL SAC. Femi is a youth development expert with over 15 years of experience. She currently works as a researcher and trainer focused on improving after-school program quality and outcomes, and helping OST professionals. She has a Ph.D. in Education from UC Irvine specializing in after-school development, and an M.P.P. from Johns Hopkins.
The ideas, thoughts, and opinions of the author are her own. They do not reflect the stance of her employer.
The afterschool field is under attack. For three consecutive years, President Trump has pushed to eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, the only federal funding specifically for afterschool programs. And if we turn to our own backyard, we find that funding for California’s afterschool programs does not keep pace with the state minimum wages increases (which are needed) or the economy. Many of our programs are already working on shoestring budgets and what they do with their limited resources is nothing short of amazing. It can be beyond frustrating to hear about the proposed cuts to afterschool funding while knowing firsthand how programs impact the lives of youth and families. In high-quality programs, young people across the nation have access to fun, engaging, learning opportunities run by supportive adults.
Two weeks ago, I joined youth, families, and other afterschool professionals at the California Afterschool and Summer Challenge. The event was like a swig of iced tea on a hot summer day. Sweet, refreshing, and invigorating. As a united front, we learned how to transform our personal stories about afterschool into powerful messages. Then we shared those messages with legislators, along with facts about funding and impact, as reasons why they should fully fund, rather than cut, spending on afterschool. That experience lit a fire in me and leaves me eager to ignite others.
I know that working in the afterschool field requires us to wear many hats. It just comes with the territory. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to add advocate to the list. The threat to afterschool is not going anywhere, and neither are the hundreds of thousands of youth who need our programs. So, what can you do?
- Stay Informed – To be a strong advocate you must know about the current policies and issues that the field is facing. Staying abreast of current issues can be time-consuming and, at times, complex. Thanks to organizations like the Afterschool Alliance, that offer a national perspective, and Save Afterschool, that offer a state perspective, you can quickly learn and stay up-to-date on what’s happening.
- Use Your Voice – Your voice and your vote matter! As do your personal experiences with afterschool. Right now, with the proposed cuts to the 21st CCLC program and the funding shortages that California’s afterschool programs are juggling, it is a perfect time for you to unite your voice with those of other afterschool advocates. There are many ways to do so. It’s up to you to choose whether you sign a petition, write letters, make phone calls, attend rallies, visit legislators, or recruit others to advocate as well. The most important thing is that you just do it!
- Donate – If you work in the afterschool field, I know you are already giving a ton of your time, much of your talent, and big pieces of your heart. Our field has a strong culture of giving that we can build upon. If we are going to ask others to invest in us financially, we must lead by example. I am a proud member of CalSAC’s Giving Alliance. As a member, I donate to the organization every month knowing that those funds go toward supporting youth development leaders, advocacy, and training. There are many, many organizations doing meaningful work in our communities. I strongly encourage you to find one and give what you can. For less than the price of a week’s worth of lattes, I am making a significant impact in the afterschool field and it is deeply rewarding.
Day in and day out, afterschool professionals, like yourself, impact the lives of our youth, families, and communities by offering high-quality programming. And in spite of this great work, our field is still under attack. So, be a changemaker and join the fight!
I wrote this blog post on a belly full of oatmeal spiced with almond butter, cinnamon, and honey.
 Simpkins, S., Liu, Y., & Dawes, N. (2018). 15 years after community programs to promote youth development. In H. Janc Malone & T. Donahue (Eds.), The growing out-of-school time field: Past, present and future (pp. 13 – 24). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.