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Kids in 33 Alaska Communities Benefit from $1.25 Million in New Afterschool Funding

This fall, 33 communities across Alaska are seeing new or expanded afterschool programs for local children, thanks to $1.25 million in funding from the new Positive Youth Development Afterschool Grant Program administered by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“It’s the State of Alaska’s first time to have a direct funding stream that is connecting kids during out of school time to reduce the risk of substance abuse,” says Thomas Azzarella, director of the Alaska Afterschool Network, a program of Alaska Children’s Trust, one of the outspoken advocates of the funding.

The goal of the grant program, which was funded with a portion of Alaska’s marijuana sales tax revenue, is to help prevent Alaska’s young people from becoming involved with substance abuse, including marijuana.

“We know afterschool programs are making a difference. There’s a mountain of research that supports that, both nationally and here in Alaska,” Azzarella shares.

“We know that kids who are enrolled in afterschool programs are two-and-a-half-times less likely than their peers not enrolled in afterschool to engage in marijuana use. The goal is to engage kids in positive learning experiences during out-of-school times, when they are highest at risk.”

Current efforts are focused on fifth- through eighth-grade students. “We’re really looking at that as a time that our young people are most at-risk for starting to develop habits of substance use,” Azzarella says. “And so it’s about how can we engage those middle school-age youth in positive opportunities to keep them on track and in healthy conditions.”

In Alaska, there are currently 25,000 kids enrolled in afterschool – and an additional 45,000 kids waiting to get into a program.

“For every kid in afterschool, there are two kids waiting to get in,” Azzarella says. “This fund is helping us reduce those waitlists, expand existing services in communities that already have afterschool, and also create new programs in communities that were ‘afterschool deserts’ that didn’t have any form of out-of-school time opportunities for kids.

“You might have an existing program that’s working well, but you can only serve 30 kids,” says Rep. Matt Claman, another champion of the afterschool funding, in an interview with KTVA. “The additional money gets them up to 45 kids.”

The first set of three-year, competitively awarded grants were presented to seven grantees this fall. But there is a clear need for additional funding. “There was $1.25 million given out in grant funding, but we actually had $2.9 million in requests come in,” Azzarella says.

Rep. Claman expects the grant amounts to increase in the future. “It’s based on a formula in terms of the revenue that is received, and so I would expect in future years there’ll be some additional revenue,” he says.

As a contractor for the state, Alaska Afterschool Network is now the technical assistance provider to the afterschool grantees. “We’re here to help support them in implementation and provide professional development for all afterschool and out-of-school programs in the state,” Azzarella says.

As part of this role, the network is introducing a new curriculum, Healthy Lifestyles, developed by the YESS Institute in Denver that helps youth “bust myths” around marijuana use. They are rolling it out this week at a training to more than 40 afterschool providers in Alaska.

The grant program was born through efforts led by a group of Alaska legislators, the Alaska Children’s Trust, Alaska Afterschool Network, Boys & Girls Clubs Alaska, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The group successfully championed legislation last year creating the Marijuana Education and Treatment Fund and directing 25 percent of Alaska’s marijuana sales tax revenue to prevention efforts.

The first half – 12.5 percent – goes to the Department of Health & Social Services for education, treatment, surveillance, and monitoring of marijuana. The other 12.5 percent goes toward afterschool programs that engage young people in skill-building to aid the prevention of substance use. Read more about these efforts on the Alaska Children’s Trust blog.

“My hope with this fund is that we are going to see kids that are inspired and connected to their community and adults in their community that care about them,” Azzarella says.

Hear more about the grants, the projects and the youth benefiting from them in this short video.

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