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Summer Program Short on Cash

Summer Program Short on Cash

Our House looks for funds to keep kids busy until school.

By Riley Johnson

PHOTO BY STATON BREIDENTHAL

LITTLE ROCK — Kayla Muhammad and dozens of other children at a Little Rock summer program swung golf clubs at The First Tee of Central Arkansas on Tuesday.

It was the first time Kayla, 9, had golfed, an experience owing in large part to a field trip coordinated by Our House, a Little Rock nonprofit serving the working homeless.

That field trip may be the last one the 67 homeless or atrisk children in Our House’s My Picture Perfect Summer program go on this summer, said Executive Director Georgia Mjartan. Funding for the program, now in its sixth year, has run out, with three weeks left before the start of school.

“Our kids are going to be here tomorrow, regardless of whether we have funding,” Mjartan said.

Grant funding from Pulaski County and the city have run out for the summer program, which must still coordinate activities for the children through the start of school because most live at the shelter with their parents, who work during the day. Mjartan says funding levels from previous years declined while more children wanted to join. Now Mjartan is trying to raise about $3,000 — calling and e-mailing donors, asking them to help keep the children busy.

“Are they going to be hanging out in the shelter drawing in the next few weeks?” she asked.

Since school let out in May, the children — ranging from 6 to 15 — have been on field trips to water parks and museums.

Mjartan said the program costs $64,000 for the entirety of summer break. A $12,500 grant from the city, restricted to June and July, along with $1,850 from a year-round Pulaski County grant, supplement a large amount of the expenses, she said.

In the spring, Mjartan and the program’s coordinator planned for 50 children — a number that would work best for their shelter, which is already pressed for bed space. The coordinator turned 30 children away before the program’s first day, she said.

But when children who had been in the shelter and with the program in years past began to show up, Mjartan and her staff couldn’t turn them away because they knew the children were in difficult living situations, she said.

So enrollment bumped up to 67, and the money the group raised for 50 children was spent on food, field-trip entry fees and transportation costs for about 90 people, she said.

Fortunately, she has AmeriCorps volunteers staffing the program, but that doesn’t cover food costs of packing lunches for trips or transportation costs, she said.

But it’s not that Our House hasn’t received donations.

On Tuesday, Mjartan said Our House received a $100,000 donation for its proposed $3.8 million youth development center, which would house the cashstrapped summer program in a couple of years.

“On one hand, we’re building for the future, but on the other hand, we need to take care of tomorrow for the kids we have today,” she said. The $100,000 donation is dedicated to the building construction and cannot be used for the summer program, Mjartan said.

While Our House searches for donations, the program will stay on its East Roosevelt Street campus, she said.

The program, according to Rob Ockerman, is a “blessing” for his three boys, 9, 6 and 5.

“The things I can’t afford to do for them, they get to do,” said Ockerman, who works as a maintenance man at a Sonic restaurant on Broadway.

Ockerman said he might talk to his boss about donating to the program, and he hopes Our House can find more funding.

So, too, does Kayla Muhammad, who said she just wants to go on a field trip to the pool so she can swim one last time before school.

Arkansas, Pages 11 on 08/01/2012

Print Headline: Summer program short of cash

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