Throw a Successful Lights On Event on a Shoestring Budget

In today’s tough economic climate, it is more important than ever to increase awareness about how important afterschool programs are to children, parents and communities. But with some afterschool program budgets shrinking, providers may have to scramble to plan a successful Lights On Afterschool event on a shoestring budget. One way to raise awareness and stretch each dollar to the max is to host a Lights On Afterschool open house.

This year, more than 1 million people will gather on October 18 at some 7,500 sites across the country and at U.S. military bases worldwide to rally in support of the afterschool programs that help working families, keep kids safe and inspire them to learn. With nearly three months to plan a Lights On Afterschool open house, it’s easy to keep costs down.

An open house is just that—a time for parents, community and business leaders, local dignitaries, policy makers, reporters and others to peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of the enriching learning opportunities available after the school day ends. Open houses are a great way for guests to see a representation of the fun and educational activities available to children who participate in quality afterschool programs.

  • Consider creating a theme for your open house to best illustrate the engaging learning opportunities available to students. Themes such as “An Afterschool Week in a Day” or “A Day in the Life of an Afterschool Student” allow programs to showcase a wide array of enrichment activities.
  • Instead of expensive printed invitations, consider having youth decorate paper cut-out light bulbs to invite policy makers, community leaders, parents and school officials to the open house. Or create electronic invitations and distribute them via email using your program’s email system or a free service like More tips on invitations, including sample text, are available online.
  • Serve open house guests a healthy snack—the same one that afterschool program youth eat each afternoon—instead of footing a large catering bill. This way, community members and policy makers get the same experiences as afterschool students.
  • Reach out to local businesses for more than a monetary donation. See if area businesses are interested in donating their services or products for a raffle or door prize. If economic concerns prevent businesses from donating, see if you can leverage another way for them to be involved. For example, if a local restaurant is unable to donate $200 to offset food costs, see if they can donate a gift card for a special parent, provide paper products for the event or send staff to volunteer at the program. Many times, businesses want to be involved beyond simple monetary contributions.
  • When guests arrive, make sure they get a chance to interact with afterschool students. Older students should show local dignitaries around and explain program activities. If you are having a prepared program, let an older student be the emcee. Guests are coming to see what youth are busy learning and doing, not to hear adults talk!
  • Make sure the open house is a time for youth to perform. Condense a week’s or month’s curriculum into an afternoon. Put on a physical fitness challenge, robotics display, poetry slam, art show of student’s paintings or drawings of what afterschool means to them, or a showcase of musical numbers and dance routines. The open house should illustrate the educational and fun afterschool activities youth participate in each day.
  • Don’t forget to let passionate youth and parents speak. In the first few weeks of the program, recruit students and parents to speak at the open house. These are afterschool programs’ best advocates. Their compelling stories help put a face on the issue and eloquently explain the need for more afterschool opportunities better than any flyer or fact sheet.

Celebrate Lights On Afterschool by highlighting what is special about your afterschool program without breaking the bank. Find more planning tips in the Afterschool Alliance’s Lights On Afterschool Event Planning Kit. 

This story originally appeared in the Afterschool Advocate (Vol. 13, Issue 7).

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