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CARES receives $1.9-M, 4-1/2-year grant

Grant provides financial security to K through 8 after-school program

November 26, 2008
Laughing children played while others enjoyed a snack before tackling their homework Thursday at the busy after-school CARES program at Marengo Elementary School. All in all, it was a normal day for the CARES program, which has sites at each of Crawford County's five elementary schools.

Those activities will continue, as program officials learned last week that CARES has received a 4-1/2-year, $1.9-million grant. The funding, provided by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, which provided the previous grant that expired earlier this year, ends months of concern about the program's future.

CARES officials and others volunteered hundreds of hours to raise money to keep the program, which charges only a nominal fee based on family income, afloat. However, even after selling elephant ears at every fair and festival in the county for years and brainstorming for fresh ideals, including a memorial brick project and a Crawford County version of the Monopoly board game, the program was quickly running out of cash.

"We were going to be short to get through December," CARES Director Kim Grizzel said Thursday.

Fortunately, she said, the Crawford County Council and Evertson Corp. stepped up, giving CARES $25,000 and $10,000, respectively, with hopes that the program's grant application would be successful. In addition, the Crawford County Community School Corp., which serves as the program's fiscal agent, has also helped with finances, in addition to allowing its elementary schools to serve as sites.

CARES, which also offers before-school and summer programs, serving students in grades K through 8, as well as a few pre-schoolers at Marengo, currently averages 171 children each afternoon.

"I'm kind of on a grant high right now," Grizzel joked, adding that she "appreciates the support of the community and the county" in helping the program stay open until it received another grant.

The grant, Grizzel explained, will provide $475,000 for the first 1-1/2 years, beginning Jan. 1, and then set amounts for each of the next three years. Since the first phase of the grant is for a longer period, CARES officials will have to be more deliberate in their budgeting.

"We'll have to use some of our fees the first year," she said.

After that, however, Grizzel plans on putting money collected through fees, as well as from fundraisers, into an interest-bearing account and operate solely on grant dollars.

The grant, she said, will allow CARES to "add some things we had in the past we had to put on the sidelines," such as more extensive tutoring.

"We've been doing homework help tutoring; now, we can actually focus on concepts," Grizzel said, adding teachers will be hired to help students.

The grant also requires CARES to offer student transportation, Grizzel said, explaining that it will do so to drop-off spots throughout the county, as it isn't feasible to travel to each student's home.

In addition, the Association of Varied Arts will work with CARES children to develop a children's theater early next year, Grizzel said.

CARES, which began in 2000, has been fortunate to have stability with its site coordinators in recent years, Grizzel said.

"Just their buy-in to the program. How many people would give up the hours these girls give up" volunteering at fundraisers?, she asked, noting they volunteer "easily 200 to 300 hours in a year."

Grizzel added that teenage employees have also played a valuable role and the new grant will allow more to be hired.

"We've had such good teens work for us," she said.

They include Jelynn Crecelius, who worked with the program since its founding until this year, and Sam Crecelius, who now works for the consulting firm that, ironically, will serve as the program's evaluator.

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