After school program cut, students left with no place to go

Eighty kids in one local community will have to find a new place to go after school after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner suspended funding for the Teen R.E.A.C.H. program that gave students extra tutoring, lessons in life skills, and also provided them with food.

For Sesser-Valier High School senior Michelle Ort, joining Teen R.E.A.C.H. as a sixth-grader opened her up to a whole new world.

“We took a field trip to the Vietnam Wall, and half of the children there didn’t even know what it was,” Ort said.

Six years later she is serving as a peer mentor to sixth grade student Cody Baumgarte.

“He’s one funny guy,” Ort said.

However, Cody makes no jokes about where he will be without the program.

“Probably living on the streets,” Baumgarte said.

Program Coordinator Regina Tinsley said statements like that are what keep her up at night.

“I’ve watched them grow up, some of them all the way through,” Tinsley said. “Without the program some of these kids don’t do their work; they don’t get their homework done. We make them responsible.”

Superintendent Jason Henry is pleading for Rauner to take some responsibility, while considering the effect the cut will have on children like Ort and Baumgarte.

“It’s not too late to make things right,” Rauner said. “This decision needs to be reversed.”

“Our children need this program,” Tinsley said.

“You’re taking away an opportunity that they should have, and it shouldn’t be taken away from them,” Ort said.

Rauner’s office said difficult cuts like this are necessary to close the $1.6 billion budget shortfall created by the Quinn administration.

The nearest Teen R.E.A.C.H. program is 80 miles from Sesser at Reaching for Kids and Youth of Massac County.

There is no word yet if it will be forced to close.

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