With the help of a 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) grant, Monongalia County, West Virginia has built an effective, far-reaching and widely praised afterschool system. With a long list of community partners and funders, the program, called the Kaleidoscope Community Learning Center, has become an institution in the community.
Prior to the 21st CCLC, the prevailing view in the local community was that the schools should play no role in children’s before- and after-school hours, and that parents should be responsible for their children’s safety and well-being during those hours. As the program has grown in scope and as more and more community members are touched by its work, that view is changing. The community now seems to see afterschool as a necessity.
But what caused such a turnaround? After the county’s first 21st CCLC grant, afterschool leaders formed a Community Youth Opportunity Council of representatives from schools and community organizations to help guide the district’s afterschool sites. A second group led by Kaleidoscope project director, Lynn Sobolov, was then created to reach out to other nonprofits that provide services for children, The groups combined forces to market their activities and garner media attention, helping to build broad community support, which in turn helped the program leverage additional federal, city and private funding to sustain the program. Sobolov explains, "Building sustainability and community support into a program from the beginning are keys to success. It is more than asking for money, it is making connections, building strong programs, generating trust, becoming visible. It's important to start that from the very beginning."
The program is now on its third 21st CCLC grant, and has grown from serving 127 youth in 1998 to serving more than 900 today. With a line-up of activities that includes cooking, science, field trips and volunteer work, it’s no surprise that the program continues to grow.
Although the program’s diverse funding base helps provide some financial security, recent economic woes have not left Kaleidoscope untouched. At one time, Kaleidoscope was able to provide transportation at all its sites. The program has had to cut back and now that service is available only at rural sites. But the afterschool community is constantly thinking of new and creative ways to keep programming as robust as possible, pooling community resources, building new relationships, and ultimately providing an indispensible service to young people in Monongalia County.