Coalition Helps to Make Programs Real

Patrick Boyle
July 1, 1998

So you’ve got this idea for a great after-school program to help kids in your community.

Sounds nice. But how are you going to make it happen?

Plenty of good youth development ideas die right there. But in New Hampshire, the next step for anyone with an after-school dream is clear: call PlusTime NH.

In the past year alone, the nonprofit PlusTime has helped start or expand out-of-school programs in 80 communities throughout New Hampshire. It has awarded more than $20,000 in grants, helped write another half-million dollars in grant proposals, trained after-school staff, and ushered child care laws through the state legislature.

PlusTime NH describes itself as the nation’s “largest statewide coalition for out-of-school programming.” It has been cited as a model program by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the Corporation for National Service.

The program began eight years ago with a $1,000 DHHS grant to help youth advocates explore how to address the needs of school age kids after school, says PlusTime program specialist Cynthia Holt. That grant spurred the creation of the NH School Age Child Care Council, which over the years won more grants and evolved into PlusTime.

PlusTime estimates that more than 87,000 New Hampshire children are unsupervised during after-school hours. The nonprofit does not run after-school programs. It awards grants to local organizations to set up and expand such programs; provides free technical assistance to start and expand programs; provides free curriculum training for staffers; runs media campaigns to build public support for after-school programs; helps craft state policy on out-of-school care; and collaborates with local organizations to make sure after-school issues are being addressed in their communities. It relies heavily on AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers.

Its programs reach dozens of youth serving organizations and several thousand youth every year.

Finding Resources

For instance, when middle schoolers in the town of Derry were getting in trouble at the local library last year because they were making too much noise, the librarian realized the kids needed somewhere else to go after school. PlusTime helped the students create the Middle Ground Student Lounge in the basement of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration. Everyday, between 10 and 21 students go from school to the de facto youth club, where they do homework, play games, and talk about anything: parents, drugs, sex, sports, school, and peer relationships. The center is staffed by a director (who is paid by a grant that PlusTime helped to write) and several volunteer youth workers.

PlusTime has helped set up or expand youth programs in schools, churches, community centers, and recreation centers. “It is very important for us to be innovative, because the communities are so different and they have very different resources,” Holt says. In some towns, the local schools make space available for after-school programs. Where schools are more reticent, local youth-serving organizations such as YMCAs serve as host. In some towns, local businesses provide funding; in others they provide pro bono services, like book-keeping.

The technical assistance and training is often crucial to an after-school provider’s survival. “A lot of the directors of these programs know about programming but don’t necessarily know about budgeting or how to go about the grantwriting process,” Holt says.

PlusTime has been funded primarily through federal funds, including Child Care Development Block Grants and Dependent Child Care Block Grants, and by Child & Family Services of New Hampshire, which provides child care. A $250,000 three-year grant this year from Providian Financial, a San Francisco-based lending institution, helped Plus Time’s budget skyrocket from $96,000 in 1997 to more than $300,000 in 1998.

PlusTime recently doubled its paid staff to four: Director Cynthia Billings, Assistant Director Melissa Moore, Administrative Assistant Posy Chandler, and Holt, who will soon become program director.

Volunteers are essential: PlusTime currently relies on eight AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, who fan out around the state, greatly expanding the agency’s reach.

The organization introduced and guided two laws through the state legislature in the past year: one allows communities to use school buses to drop off or pick up youth at after-school programs; the other allows the state to deny payment of child care subsidies to anyone who has been convicted of a violent crime or has a “founded” case of child abuse.

One key to success is inclusion: PlusTime’s executive committee and board of directors includes a school principal, a judge, a minister, a private child care provider, and representatives from the governor’s office, the state education department, several businesses, a physicians’ group, and local youth-serving agencies such as the YMCA, Boy & Girls Club, and the Girl Scouts. It also has a three-member youth advisory council.

An example of both PlusTime’s public awareness effort and its recruitment of business support is a youth photo exhibit now traveling around the state. PlusTime invited six-to-eighteen-year-olds to submit photos depicting what they do when they aren’t in school. The top photos recently began a six-month state-wide tour called, “It’s About Time. Real Kids. Real Assets.” The exhibit is sponsored by private businesses, including Jefferson Pilot (a North Carolina-based financial firm), Citizens Bank, Lahey Hitchcock Physicians Group, Tosco petroleum, Rounds Custom Photo Lab, Ritz Camera, UPS, Sam’s Club and conservative White House aspirants — take note — the Manchester Union Leader newspaper.

Boyle, Patrick. "Coalition Helps to Make Programs Real." Youth Today, July/August 1998, p. 25.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.