Guest post by Jennifer Rinehart
The annual Lights On Afterschool celebration is coming up on October 17th. Each year, 1 million Americans celebrate Lights On Afterschool to shine a light on the after-school programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families. One of the reasons that Lights On Afterschool has grown into a national celebration involving nearly 10,000 communities is because local programs have embraced it as a way to meet some of their big-picture needs, including:
- Building public will and generating demand for quality after-school among parents and children and youth;
- Securing funding by showing off what the program actually does; and
- Cultivating champions who can advocate on their behalf.
After-school systems can think of Lights On Afterschool in the same way. The annual event can help meet your existing systems-building goals.
First, it’s a great way to have a city leader publicly commit to after-school, in front of parents, kids, media, and more. A recent survey by FHI360 and The Wallace Foundation indicated the importance of elected officials’ support to sustain and effectively coordinate after-school systems. Use Lights On Afterschool to your advantage in gaining and highlighting that support.
Lights On Afterschool is also a chance to enhance your coordination efforts and share messaging about your systems work. You can give registered sites sample language to use in press materials, invitations, and other communications that show how their work is connected to a larger system of providers.
You might even grow your database of programs. By mining the Afterschool Alliance’s list of registered sites, you could uncover a new site or two in your community to add to your database.
Finally, the annual celebration gives you an opportunity to show off the high bar of quality in after-school in your city. Through events and related outreach, you can inform the public perception of after-school programming and generate greater public will—and ultimately, demand—for programs and more resources to support those programs and your work.
As systems leaders, you will want to think about what role you can play in Lights On Afterschool, this year and in future years. You could:
- Work with programs to host a citywide event, like the fireworks display the city of Evansville, IN, put on in 2003. Think of using a city landmark like a ballpark or city hall. Unless you’ve already started on something for 2013, you are probably looking ahead to 2014.
- Encourage participation and promote individual program events happening across the city. Perhaps give the programs some common language to use or provide materials to hand out that tell the systems story.
Register your event(s) today, take advantage of the Afterschool Alliance’s planning tools, and we’ll do our part to promote your systems building work through our national media outreach. Together we can make systems building part of the national celebration of Lights On Afterschool.
Jennifer Rinehart is Vice President for Policy and Research at the Afterschool Alliance.