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After-school Centers Link to Boost Staff Stability and Child Success

It could be dance. It could be chess. It could be a little basketball. Across Milwaukee, after school programs offer a choice of engaging activities to draw youth through a mix of recreation, education and a hot meal. Known as Community Learning Centers (CLCs), these programs offer a safe, structured environment for more than 17,000 children each weekday afternoon.

Beyond the opportunity to help local kids, what motivates the adults who lead them? For the CLCs, it can be hard to train and retain talented, passionate professionals who can help for three to four hours each afternoon. A Community Partnerships for Youth pilot program is working to boost the impact of the CLCs, made possible by a two-year, $105,000 grant to the UWM Foundation Inc.

Motivating the people who motivate our kids

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for Youth Work is leading the project that enables CLC leaders to share ideas that spur creative programming, empower supervisors and develop and retain talented and passionate team members. To test new approaches to engaging staff and developing an educationally enriching curriculum, the Center is working with three pilot sites, including the Allen-Field CLC on the city’s south side.

“The hiring process is a challenge. You want to attract quality folks, although you might not be able to pay very much,” said Mildred Olson, who manages the Allen-Field School CLC. “We have to be creative to keep them engaged.”

At Allen-Field, that dilemma is highlighted by Antonio Caceres, a 25-year-old chemistry graduate who works during the day at the nearby Doerfler Elementary School as a paraprofessional. For him, the three hours he spends at the CLC are rewarding.

“We can play chess, we can work on crafts – the offerings are always changing,” he said. “The kids that come here really want to be here, so our team does a lot of planning to make it engaging.”

Forging public-private partnerships to help kids succeed

Although housed in a Milwaukee Public School, the Allen-Field site is one of more than 30 operated by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Milwaukee. The organization is participating in the pilot program alongside the United Community Centers of Milwaukee (UNCOM), a collaboration that encompasses more than 50 sites by its partner agencies. The pilot sites meet often to learn how to work the staff training and curriculum development into their existing staff training mandates.

The clock is ticking for site managers. New state standards are being implemented that will standardize the credentials for the adults who staff these programs, or else risk funding. The Helen Bader Foundation is helping the pilot by convening learning sessions for site managers, and the Center for Youth Work has launched an online education class this fall.

“We have to ensure that what we offer is enriching for the children,” said Olsen. “I’m always looking for new ideas, so it’s been extremely valuable to be able to share with other directors on what works best for our sites.”