By editorial board • 

After-school program needs a new team of champions

When it comes to McMinnville’s successful but financially starving after-school program, the headlines tell the story.

They tell it in glowing terms from the founding of Kids on the Block in 1989 through its 25th anniversary in 2014. But they tell it in increasingly distressed terms since the demise of the program’s foundational funding source, the Mayor’s Charity Ball, in 2017.

In the early years, hundreds of stories in News-Register archives carried headlines like “Kids on Block marks 10 years of success,” “Mayor’s Ball raises most ever for after-school programs” and “KOB kicks off with 557 kids.”

But the January 2017 headline, “Mayor’s Ball won’t happen this year,” marked a downward spiral yet to be reversed. It was followed with the likes of “Kids on the Block faces funding challenges,” “Kinds on the Block after-school program grapples with limitations.”

A transition was made from the city Parks Department-led KOB to a partnership with the Portland-based nonprofit Camp Fire Columbia. But funding issues remain, as noted in the recent headline, “Next year could be last for after-school program.”

If this community cares about its kids as much as we think, it won’t let that happen. It will find a way to reverse this valued program’s financial fortunes, no matter what.

In the late 1980s, leaders of the community’s three heavily intertwined institutional pillars, the city, school district and college, were growing increasingly concerned about so-called “latch key” children. That is to say, children from families either headed by a single parent working outside the home or two parents doing so, which were coming to account for up to 75% of district students.

Dale Tomlinson, then serving in the dual capacity of vice president at Linfield University and president at the McMinnville Chamber of Commerce, suggested Kids on the Block as a way to keep youngsters from having to spend afternoons supervised by nothing more than a television set. The idea was embraced with enthusiasm by Ed Gormley, who proclaimed the program one of his signature accomplishments when he ended his almost 24-year run as mayor in 2008.

Ed and his wife, Candy, launched the Mayor’s Charity Ball to augment funds from registration fees and school and city coffers. It raised only $9,316 the first time out in 1989, but soon began generating more than $100,000 a year, and passed the million-dollar mark in 2006.

The program started out hosting a modest complement of students three afternoons a week at two schools, Cook and Newby. It expanded to five days a week at five elementary schools in 1992, added the district’s two middle schools in 1994, and soon found itself serving more than 500 young pupils.

As an added benefit, students at both Mac High and Linfield were soon gaining valuable experience helping plan and produce KOB curriculum under the direction of educators and adult volunteers.

Success stories abound.

Jesse Latter was one of the early KOB participants, along with her older brother and younger sister. She took inspiration from the Linfield students helping run the program, and later followed them on to Linfield herself.

An elementary education major, she went on to become a stalwart with both the Start Making a Reader Today reading program and Kids on the Block after-school program herself.

Elide Sanchez Rivera was similarly inspired more than a decade later at Newby. Now serving as Adult Services librarian at the McMinnville Public Library, she also went on to further her education at Linfield, and to volunteer with both SMART and KOB along the way.

Both view Kids on the Block as a major turning point. And they have lots of local company.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, Helen Mansfield heaped early praise on the program in a letter to the editor, saying it “shows what happens when a community commits to helping its children.” And we’ve published many like letters over the years since.

There is nothing on the horizon to suggest fewer kids will be spending late afternoons alone with electronic devices without programs like KOB or Camp Fire. If anything, the trend is continuing its long upward march, sad to say.

While some students come from families that can afford the registration fees on their own, many do not. And from the outset, the program has committed to subsidizing the cost as needs dictate.

In the spirit of Dale Tomlinson and Ed Gormley, it’s time for today’s leaders to rise to today’s challenge in like fashion. This is not a program we can afford to let lapse.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable