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Published: Saturday, 5/29/2004

Cuts imperil services to local youths

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Holding a 4-month-old baby in her arms, Alexicia Sims is gaining practical experience in what she hopes will be a career in early childhood education.

Miss Sims, 18, has been involved for about three years in a youth program offered through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Ohio designed to provide mentoring and career assistance for teens and young adults.

"They would call you and make sure your job was going good. It does a lot for people in the program who are having problems. It helps things go smoother at the job," said Miss Sims, who is working at her mother's day-care facility this year. She plans to major in early childhood education when she heads to Wright State University in August.

But with decreased federal funding for the youth programs offered as part of the Workforce Investment Act, program coordinators and some local political leaders are concerned that services will suffer.

Barbie Harrison, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said enrollment in the program her agency offers has increased from 100 last year to 164 this year, but staffing will be reduced from 4.5 to 2.5 employees.

That's because her funding decreased from an average of $225,000 in the current fiscal year to $141,000 next year.

"When you have to reduce staff, that means you have to reduce services," Ms. Harrison said. "You can't ask one staff person to do what two or three were doing."

The Lucas County commissioners, who administer the federal program locally, are making cuts to agencies that supply youth services because of the decrease in federal funding.

The Lucas County Educational Service Center has averaged $685,200 in available funding for the last two fiscal years, according to Bridgette Kabat, the commissioners' assistant budget director. The county awarded a contract of $551,000 for the fiscal year beginning in July.

The YMCA's average funding through the program over the last two fiscal years was $1.05 million, but its proposed contract this year is for $658,000.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said she's concerned that the decrease in federal dollars will mean fewer opportunities for teens to become involved in programs that can help them find jobs and develop career interests.

"It's not acceptable to not have summer jobs," she said. "Summer jobs for children are training jobs. It helps them learn about areas of interest and it helps them plan for careers."

Melanie Grohowski, executive director of the YMCA's Youth Opportunities Program, said it's unclear how much of an impact the proposed cut would have. She said it would hurt the program, which serves 210 teenagers, but she didn't want to speculate about the potential impact.

"We're very disappointed. The commissioners are disappointed," Ms. Grohowski said. "But we're all working together to find funding to see what else we can do."Commissioner Maggie Thurber said the youth programs are "tremendous" and worthy of funding, but the government cuts are a reality that must be addressed.

Ms. Thurber urged agencies to try to supplement their programs with private contributions from foundations or grants.

"Government funding can't be used as the sole funding any more because government funding is tenuous," she said.

Harry Barlos, president of the commissioners, said he sees the cuts to the youth programs as a lack of commitment overall by the federal government to worker training. He said training should be emphasized in down economy.

"Washington needs to prioritize this issue," Mr. Barlos said. "They need to invest and make a long-term commitment to America's workforce."

Contact Dale Emch at:

daleemch@theblade.com

or 419 724-6061.



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