Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale Teen Reach program restarts, funding still a concern

A popular program that teaches at risk kids and teens life skills is back up and running. Staff at the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale say they’re glad to see the program fully restarted Nov.1 for area kids. But. budget uncertainty in the state is creating a shaky future for the program.

Kiara McCombs and Markayla Coplin have been going to the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale for years. "Oh yeah, I love it," McCombs said. She said the place and the kids that fill it feel like family.

Inside, they do homework and play games, but through the Teen Reach Program — also known as LIFT or Leaders Inspiring Futures Together —  the kids also learn about life.

"They talk about body image and how the world can perceive you and how you perceive yourself, and that helps you to gain confidence in yourself," McCombs said.

"I get more help here than at school and it’s way better here," Coplin said. She said the staff will help with homework or any other kind of problems you’re going through, but so do the other kids.

Along with teaching kids leadership skills and self-esteem, the program also works to make sure kids know about positivity and respect for each other and other cultures, so they know how to treat others when they leave the Boys and Girls Club.

"It’s about teaching kids things that they’re not learning in school," said Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale Executive Director Randy Osborn. "There aren’t too many places where they can get character and leadership development, prevention education around avoiding drugs and alcohol and gangs and negative behaviors. That’s the focus along much of Teen Reach along with academic support.”

"Being able to provide support for the kids so that they can be successful in school and in life, it’s just become a greater and greater need, because there are fewer resources in the community,” said Tina Carpenter, Program Director with the Boys and Girls Club. She said there’s a huge need for this in Carbondale. With few resources available with the state’s ongoing budget impasse, the number of kids coming in to the club has tripled recently.

The teen Reach Program serves kids ages 6 to 18 years old, but Carpenter said roughly 85 percent of the kids are 11 to 18 years old. She said the program takes an in depth look at how to help each individual kid to succeed now and later in life, not just by learning leadership skills, but teaching kids how to treat others respectfully and avoid things like gangs or drugs.

"We really tie in to a lot of the social, emotional issues that impact our youth and how they can deal with that, and develop strategies and tools so that they can overcome obstacles," Carpenter said.

With no state budget since July of 2015, program funding for Teen Reach was cut entirely by the state. A stopgap budget passed in the summer approved the funding for the program for Fiscal Year 2017 — July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 — but Osborn said funding will stop at the end of this year unless lawmakers approve an extension. He says they don’t currently have the spending authority to authorize payments beyond the start of the year, leaving them without the money that they’ve been approved for.

"But we’re going to do everything that we can just to keep giving kids as much of those programs as we can," Osborn said. He says more and more kids in the area need the program. And, while they may not be able to do as much without the state funding, he says they won’t be cutting it any time soon.

Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale leaders are urging lawmakers to authorize continued funding for the Teen Reach program and Boys and Girls Club locations around the state beyond Dec. 31. But, they say, more importantly, they and other human service providers in the state need the secure funding for programming and clients that only comes from a state budget.

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