SEATTLE - Today, after-school programs in 50 Washington cities are celebrating "Lights On Afterschool." It's an annual event to underscore the importance of kids having homework help, activities and somewhere safe to be, in the hours before parents get off work. But times are tough for after-school programs. Only 12 percent of Washington kids are enrolled - one in three is home alone in the afternoons, often caring for younger siblings.
Sherrie Belt, who serves as an "Afterschool Ambassador" for School's Out Washington, says cost is a concern for some parents - but there's another culprit, too.
"Parents say, 'I have no way for my kids to get there. I'm still working, so how am I getting my kids from school to a safe and caring after-school program?' Transportation is the number one barrier."
She explains it's made worse by schools tightening their budgets and cutting back on bus service. Grants made to after-school programs often cover activities or food, but not transportation. In a survey taken last year, one in four parents in Washington said they would enroll their children if a program were available in their area.
Belt is a former after-school program director, who believes keeping kids busy also makes for safer communities.
"Really think about what would happen to our children if we had no after-school programs. If these programs keep being cut, our kids aren't going to have those safe spaces with caring adults; our communities are not going to be safe; a lot of people are going to be out of work."
In the same statewide survey, 80 percent of adults said they support public funding for these programs; although, in Washington state funding was cut in 2009.
About 80 "Lights On Afterschool" events are being held around the state. School's Out Washington's event is Thursday, Oct. 21, from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club, 4520 MLK Jr. Way South, Seattle. Sound Transit is giving free rides to after-school program participants and their families in the Seattle metro area to attend the event.