After-School Grant Application Gets Final OK

Washtenaw County commissioners have given final authorization to apply for a $20,000 grant to fund expansion of an after-school program called “Telling It” in the West Willow and MacArthur Boulevard housing developments, low-income neighborhoods on the county’s east side. The vote came at the county board’s Feb. 6, 2013 meeting. Initial approval was received on Jan. 15, 2013. [.pdf of grant application]

According to a staff memo, the Telling It program focuses on developing creative writing and literacy skills for at-risk youth. It would support an effort to fight gang-related activity – specifically, the dozen or so “cliques” in the Ypsilanti/Willow Run area. The memo defines cliques as gangs “without by-laws, or a code of ethics, ultimately heightening the threat. Criminal behavior is viewed as a rite of passage as youth longing to belong to something in some areas where they are being offered very little positive influence during the school year. The sheriff’s office has recognized the need to provide after-school enrichment programs that are not purely sports based.”

One of the main concerns in West Willow is an underground culture of “fight clubs,” according to the sheriff’s office – where teenage boys promote fighting between teenage girls, with the fights videotaped and uploaded to YouTube.

The grant application is unusual in that it’s the first time a county unit has sought funding through the coordinated funding pilot program, which was designed to support human services more effectively in this community. The coordinated funding is a partnership of the county, the city of Ann Arbor, the United Way of Washtenaw County, the Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

The process has three parts: planning/coordination, program operations, and capacity-building. The approach targets six priority areas, and identifies lead agencies for each area: (1) housing and homelessness – Washtenaw Housing Alliance; (2) aging – Blueprint for Aging; (3) school-aged youth – Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth; (4) children birth to six – Success by Six; (5) health – Washtenaw Health Plan; and (6) hunger relief – Food Gatherers.

The grant application for Telling It would help pay for four program facilitators, a program director, and a psychotherapist to serve as a training consultant. It would fall under the coordinated funding category of capacity building.

Commissioner Conan Smith had previously raised concerns about using the coordinated funding program, which was designed to support local nonprofits, to pay for a county-sponsored initiative. He felt the county should find a way to pay for it without using money that’s meant for outside agencies. However, he raised no objection at the Feb. 6 meeting and voted in favor of the application. Before the vote, board chair Yousef Rabhi told commissioners that he has asked Mary Jo Callan – who leads the county’s office of community & economic development, which administers the coordinated funding program – to develop a policy that addresses these concerns.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]