children climbing on a rock wall

Boosting the Potential of Our Youth

This Bold Voices blog post was written by one of Allies for Children’s partners about a subject that is relevant to their work as well as ours. Today’s blog was written by:
Chris Watts, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania.

(March 31, 2023) All kids deserve the opportunity to thrive. This simple statement is why the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania started 135 years ago and why so many Out-of-School-Time (OST) organizations continue to do whatever it takes to advance the potential of young people across the region. These programs are critical to the development of strong and resilient kids, families, and communities while providing essential family support by enabling parents and caregivers to work.

Despite this important mission, there is no dedicated funding for OST programs in the Pennsylvania State Budget. This means no funding to ensure all kids have access no matter their background or their family situation. And no funding for the committed and caring staff who show up every day to serve as care providers and mentors for our children. This lack of OST funding threatens the accessibility and sustainability of these programs that so many youth and families rely upon every day.

Demand for these programs is higher than ever before, as out of the over 230,000 youth under 18 in Allegheny County, we know that more than 64,000 children would be enrolled in a program if one were available to them. Of the children in programs, less than 45% are in high-quality ones, but evidence shows that children who participate in high-quality out of school time programs:

  • Have better social, emotional, and cognitive development
  • Have better school attendance, academic performance, and behavior
  • Are more likely to graduate on time and transition successfully into college/career
  • Are less likely to engage in risky behaviors
  • Have parents and caregivers who can fully participate in the workforce

This is what prepares kids for great futures, but unfortunately inconsistent funding and workforce challenges are limiting the potential of Pennsylvania’s youth which impacts our individual and collective short and long-term competitiveness and resilience. We also know that these challenges adversely affect the communities that have historically been the most disadvantaged. Throughout Allegheny County – in neighborhoods like Duquesne, Millvale, McKeesport, and McKees Rocks – OST program options are limited and often at full capacity.

Consistent funding would strengthen sustainability and stability and allows OST time programs to focus on what they do best – help kids reach their full potential. That is why the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania is advocating for The Building Opportunity Through Out-of-School Time (BOOST) Grant Program to be established through the State Legislature.

The BOOST Grant Program would benefit before/after school and summer programs by creating a dedicated funding stream from the PA General Fund to support quality OST programs for kids from every zip code through a competitive grant process. This program would provide essential resources for both local programs and larger statewide alliances of nationally-recognized programs, like the Boys & Girls Clubs.

There were many youth focused priorities in Governor Shapiro’s recent budget proposal, but the BOOST Grant Program was not included; it is now up to the State Legislature to move this essential program forward. If you are a parent, provider, or Pennsylvanian that cares about the future of our youth and the future of the community, we ask that you please contact your state legislators to let them know how important OST programs and the BOOST Grant Program are to your kids, family, and community.

For more information about the BOOST Grant Program, read this memorandum from sponsoring Representatives Michael Schlossberg and Kathleen Tomlinson.