State cuts force Boys & Girls Clubs to close after-school site

Students such as these who attend the after-school program at Emmett Scott Center will be bused to a site at Northside Center after the Christmas break.
Students such as these who attend the after-school program at Emmett Scott Center will be bused to a site at Northside Center after the Christmas break.

Parents learned Tuesday that this is the last week their children will attend an after-school program housed in Rock Hill's Emmett Scott Recreation Center.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of York County, citing cuts in state funding and a decline in donations, announced plans to close the club and shift activities two miles away to the group's Northside Center location.

All Emmett Scott club staff members, according to a letter given to parents, will move with the program, which will reopen on Jan. 1 at the Northside Center. Rock Hill school district buses will take the 32 students from school to the Northside Center, said Boys & Girls Clubs of York County executive director Karen Blankenship.

While she doesn't expect to lay off workers, Blankenship said several employees will work fewer hours each week. Parents won't pay more for children to attend, she said.

Boys & Girls Clubs, with four centers in York County, fund programs through a mix of federal and state dollars plus donations.

The organization last summer lost all $74,000 it received annually from the state and doesn't expect to have it returned next year, Blankenship said. That accounts for about 15 percent of the budget.

Blankenship said she expects the cutbacks that were announced Tuesday will save about $16,000.

"We know this means we have to raise more at the local level," she said.

Programs, open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, cost $30 per child per week. Students who receive free or reduced-price lunch pay $10 and $20 a week, respectively.

After-school programs of all kinds are hurting nationwide at a time when parents need affordable care more than ever, said Jodi Grant, executive director of Washington-based Afterschool Alliance, which is pushing for federal support.

"Parents are struggling to keep their jobs. They're taking on second and third jobs. They need a place after school that's a safe place to go," Grant said. "What I find most troubling is, programs are doing everything they can, cutting to the bone."

The York County arm of Boys & Girls Clubs is one of several across the state cutting back.

Seven clubs serving more than 600 children ages 6 to 18 in poor neighborhoods near the coast have announced plans to close, possibly temporarily.

Zelda Waymer, the director of South Carolina's Afterschool Alliance, said she expects more of the state's after-school programs to close as the economy worsens. Programs for poor parents depend on state money and fundraising, she said.

In South Carolina's case, projected tax collections have plummeted some $1 billion since the summer, and nonprofits aren't expecting the state to help. The Legislature eliminated $1.3 million to Boys & Girls Clubs statewide.

Parents interviewed Tuesday said they're disappointed the Emmett Scott club is closing, but thankful their children still have a place to go.

"I'm glad to see them merging together instead of closing down," said Cammie Chisholm, whose 9-year-old daughter attends the after-school program at Emmett Scott Center. "If it closed down, I don't know what I would do."

"I'm glad the staff from over here is going over there," said parent Harriet Wherry. She added that she understands the club's need to move.

"With the economy the way it is, you do what you have to do."