Mayors meet to discuss issue

Summit tackles daycare needs

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In the current economy, after-school programs may not be as accessible to families as they once were.

That's the message shared by Kacy Conley, director of the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network, at the Western Pennsylvania Mayoral Summit on Out-of-School Time, held in Monroeville Friday.

The summit brought together municipal leaders to discuss ways to coordinate efforts and address challenges.

"More than half a million Pennsylvania children need, but don't have, after-school programs, even as statewide demand for after-school programs has increased," she said.

With cuts in funding over the last two years for Child Care Works, a state and federally funded program to help low-income families pay for child care, waiting lists havebecome longer, Ms. Conley said.

The summit was hosted by Mayors Michael Cherepko of McKeesport and Thomas Trigona of Johns-town. It looked at programs for before and after school, weekends and summer for ages 5 to 18. A similar program was held in Eastern Pennsylvania Sept. 11.

Among the 60 attendees here were the mayors of Port Vue, Butler, Farrell, and Monongehela, state Rep. Jack Wheatley, D-Hill District, state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, and chiefs of police from McKeesport and Farrell.

Not only are fewer families able to access child care, but out-of-school time programs are facing dwindling resources.

"Uncertain Times" a survey released in August by the Afterschool Alliance in Washington, D.C., cited Pennsylvania's after-school programs as "facing greater budgetary problems" forecasting a "significantly bleaker financial future than after-school programs as a whole nationally."

The summit looked at ways municipalities could offer more after-school opportunities with discussions on building citywide after-school systems.

Research from organizations, including the Wallace Foundation and The National League of Cities, has found one key to a quality after-school system is finding someone to coordinate separate efforts.

"That's why we focused on mayors and council leaders because they have the ability to convene the partners in the community to work on partnership and collaboration," Ms. Conley said.

Mr. Cherepko, who taught in McKeesport Area School District until he took office this year, said getting the information to parents is key. "We already have a lot of after-school programs. ... We need more, but part of the problem is getting the information out to the public so that's what we are trying to do in every way we can."

One of the ways is through the police force.

"Often our police are the first to hear 'there's nothing to do around here.' We are going to make sure our police officers ... have access to a list of various after-school activities and give them out to people," he said.

Aimee LeFevers, director of Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time, said the summit has made her job a little easier.

She said research shows that one of the indicators of a strong out-of-school system is mayoral support. "I now have the ear of these people and can build and strengthen the relationship," Ms. LeFevers said.

Her group is an effort of Heinz Endowments, The Grable Foundation, McCauley Ministries and the United Way.

"There's no need to re-invent the wheel. You can find out some things that are working in other communities. And if it is something we can put in place right away, it's a win-win for everyone," Mr. Cherepko said.

neigh_east - neigh_south

Jill Thurston, freelance writer; suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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