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Posted: November 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Keep the light on

Housing Authority afterschool program dangerously low

By Mandi Singer /

Shining bright: Students in the care of the Covington Housing Authority Afterschool program march down the sidewalk towards a field where the children held a balloon release to celebrate the Lights on Afterschool Rally for afterschool programs Thu...

 The official kickoff for the Lights on Afterschool program at the Covington Housing Authority may be the beginning of the end for the students it serves, because unless funding is found quickly, the program is completely out of money.
What originally began as a summer program to service only the children who reside in the Covington Housing Authority soon morphed into an afterschool program that helps 20-30 children a day. Though the affiliation with the national Lights on Afterschool program is new, the program itself is not. Director Lillian Bittaye has been affiliated with the afterschool and summer program at the housing authority since 2006.
"This program just helps us shed more light on the situation," said Bittaye. "Our goal is trying to increase services for these kids that don't even have a playground. Also, we need more after school programs because there are only four around Covington. It's an opportunity to highlight the fact that we do exist and we desperately need the community's support."
The program, which is also known as Let the Children Live, operates solely on grants and donations, as well as help from volunteers from around the community and Oxford College. Initially students were given snacks after school, but beginning Aug. 16, they began serving full meals - an incentive to get the children to come the program.
"We had kids getting off their buses and coming straight in to get something to eat. For a lot of them that would be all they got for the evening," Bittaye said. "A lot of these kids don't have food at home and it's hard to teach a hungry child, so we tried to provide something to fill their bellies so they could focus on their homework. Also, these kids wouldn't show up if we didn't feed them. They just wouldn't come. So it's a way to get them here and then we can focus on their schoolwork."
This, according to Bittaye, has caused their meager funds to be depleted faster than normal. "We just received our last grants - one for $2,500 and one for $300 - and they didn't last long," she said, adding that money went for food, arts and crafts and school supplies
Bittaye said the program was, at one point not too long ago, helping with homework as well as focusing on nutrition, fitness and arts and crafts. It helped give the children something to do after school and it kept them out of trouble, according to Bittaye.
The program was supposed to get a reimbursement of $1,500 for the summer food program they provided in the neighborhood from Good Hope Baptist Church but Bittaye says they have yet to see that money. She also had high hopes that the 14 different grants she applied for locally would materialize, but four of those organizations have turned her down and the other 10 have not replied at all.
"We will only be able to continue for a limited time and only because the Housing Authority has agreed to provide snacks - not meals - for a limited time," said Bittaye. "And the students understand that without the funding they cannot have this program," she said, beginning to cry. "Some of these children have benefitted tremendously from this program - and it's hard with the community we are working with. You are dealing with people who are not well educated themselves so it's hard to get them to understand the importance of this program."
Bittaye had hoped to be able to assist some of the parents in the community as well by offering a GED program and computer assistance during the day, as well as a Tiny Tots reading program that would allow young children to be exposed to reading at an early age and maybe start school more prepared than they are at this point.
"We cannot provide quality programs without funding so it is imperative that we find someone in the community that believes that what we are doing is worthwhile," she said. "With the economy being in the state it is in, it has been hard to find donors that will commit. We're hoping things will turn around by the first of the year but most of these kids can't wait that long. We unofficially stopped the program on Oct. 16," she said. The students involved in the program have even tried to raise money for the programs at community events like the Fuzz Run and the Literacy Festival. According to Bittaye they raised $50 at one event and $35 at the other - just enough to provide meals for a day.
"Without the food the children won't come and once they are here they can help them with their homework. The only way they'll show up is if there is food and the only way we can help them is if they show up," said Bittaye. "Unless we can find a private donor I don't know what we're going to do. We have nothing."
For more information about the program visit www.letthechildrenlive.net or contact Bittaye at (770) 572-8995.
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