Herald-Whig View

Teen Reach law could save after-school program

Posted: Aug. 7, 2016 12:01 am

IN A RARE show of unanimous and bipartisan support, Illinois lawmakers and the governor have passed a law that will create a budget line item for Teen Reach after-school programs.

It's the least they could do after last year's budget stalemate decimated Teen Reach programs across the state. Only Quincy's chapter of Teen Reach continued to operate, and that was made possible only through generous help from individuals, groups and businesses in the community.

Teen Reach -- Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring and Hope -- offers training and supervision for at-risk youths. It specifically provides young people with tutoring, life skills training, parental involvement, recreation, adult mentors and service learning.

Dennis Williams, program director for Quincy Teen Reach, said an average of 50 kids attended sessions each day at Irving School last year. The program helped six students graduate from high school and let all participants know they matter, Williams said.

"We're dealing with kids who found it difficult to get through school. The biggest thing we give the kids is hope for the future," Williams told The Herald-Whig.

Educators are sold on the after-school program. Schools refer students to Teen Reach because they've seen higher graduation rates and classroom performance by participants.

Illinois law enforcement officials lobbied for Teen Reach, with 119 of them signing a letter of support recently sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner. The letter said Teen Reach helps vulnerable kids stay out of the state's costly criminal justice system.

Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley said the Quincy Teen Reach hadn't received any state money for more than a year. "We've got to give these proven programs the kind of consistent support that they, and our communities, deserve," he said.

The Quincy community came together to keep the local Teen Reach going last year. Board member Mike Nobis said businesses, individuals, churches and agencies raised more than $70,000. Those funds allowed Quincy Teen Reach to keep operating when all other programs in Illinois shut down from lack of state funds. The Quincy Housing Authority also has stepped forward to provide space for Teen Reach this year.

"If we had been off for a year, it would have been hard to get all the kids back, and we didn't want to lose them," Nobis told The Herald-Whig.

The state's stopgap budget, approved June 30, provides $13.1 million for teen reach through the end of the year. The new law will take a different approach, creating a dedicated line item for a grant program to be administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services. Agencies will apply for the funds to set up Teen Reach programs.

A state law that establishes a line item is a good start. Now lawmakers need to pass a balanced, responsible budget so that Teen Reach can help thousands of young people succeed.