In today’s tough economic climate, it’s more important than ever to increase awareness about how important afterschool programs are to children, parents and communities. But even though some afterschool program budgets are shrinking, it’s still easy to plan a successful Lights On Afterschool celebration on a shoestring budget. Lights On Afterschool celebrations don’t need to take a lot of time, money or resources to be great; a creative, low-key event with a well thought out guest list can have just as much impact as a larger event. What matters is taking a moment to recognize the important, positive benefits of afterschool programs and sharing that with your community—with or without the confetti!
There are lots of ways to celebrate Lights On Afterschool by highlighting what’s special about your afterschool program without breaking the bank. Below are two event ideas that can work for any program. You can find more planning tips and easy event ideas in our Lights On Afterschool Event Planning Kit.
One way to raise awareness and stretch each dollar to the max is to host a Lights On Afterschool open house. 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.
- When guests arrive, make sure they get a chance to interact with afterschool students. Older students should show guests 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!
- The open house should illustrate the educational and fun afterschool activities youth participate in each day. 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.
- Don’t forget to let passionate youth and parents speak—they are your 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.
- Serve your 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.
Host a site visit for local leaders
Inviting community leaders and elected officials to visit your afterschool program is a powerful way to help them understand the value your program brings to the community. In fact, site visits have had a definite impact for many afterschool programs by establishing personal relationships with policy makers.
The current election season presents an important opportunity to put afterschool on the radar of local, state and federal policy makers as well as the public in a visible and meaningful way. During the month of October, Congress will be out of session and policy makers will be back in their home districts and states to campaign, giving you the opportunity to show them the benefits of afterschool firsthand. Below are simple steps to help you get elected officials to join your Lights On Afterschool celebration.
- Mail or fax a personalized invitation to the official’s district office. Be sure to send along a program profile, brochure or some background materials about your program. Call the office to follow up on your invitation. Use our database to find your local district office contact information for your U.S. senators and representative.
- Try for the top, but be flexible. Provide options for dates and times if your first selection doesn’t work for the policy maker’s schedule. If the policy maker isn’t available, see if a staff person can make the visit instead. Be sure to mention that staff and parents will be on hand for the visit and offer to invite media as well.
- Point out how your program relates to the policy maker's interests (literacy, improving academic achievement in public schools, keeping communities safe by decreasing juvenile crime, helping working families, etc.). Use our issue briefs for background information on different issue areas.
- Be sure the policy maker gets to hear from youth participants and let the policy maker ask questions or facilitate a discussion about what they gain from the program. Ask parents to share their perspectives on the program's value; have your principal talk about students' increased attendance and improved behavior; invite community members to comment on how the program keeps kids out of trouble.
- Be sure to have program brochures or copies of a program profile on hand. You may want to make copies of any articles, youth essays, parent letters, awards or other documents that demonstrate the community's support for your program.
- Send a Thank You letter after the visit. Consider including a personal note from students or parents who spent time with the official during the visit.
For more resources to help you use Lights On Afterschool to make afterschool an election issue, see our Afterschool Campaign Toolkit.
Register your Lights On Afterschool celebration now! Once you register your event you’ll receive 10 free posters, planning tips and event updates. As always, our event planning kit is available for free online as well as sample materials, graphics, timelines, case studies and more. No matter what kind of event you end up planning, remember to invite policy makers from every level—local, state and federal—to attend or invite them to do a site visit whenever they’re available.