By Tim Gardner
Abigail Swanger is an interesting and highly-accomplished individual with a tremendously deep passion to help and be a mentor and positive influence on children.
And her honorable efforts are being recognized across the nation—literally.
The Afterschool Alliance has announced that Swanger, Family and Community Coordinator at WAMY’s Community Kids Afterschool Program for Avery County, has been selected to serve as an Afterschool Ambassador for the Afterschool Alliance in 2019-2020.
Swanger, a Greenville, SC native and Appalachian State University graduate, is one of just 15 leaders in the United States chosen for this prestigious honor this year. Ambassadors will continue their work supporting local afterschool programs while serving the one-year Afterschool Ambassador term, organizing public events, communicating with policymakers and community leaders and in various other ways increasing awareness and support for afterschool and summer learning programs.
“We are delighted that Abigail Swanger will serve as an Afterschool Ambassador this year,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. “With federal funding for quality afterschool and summer learning programs at risk, we need strong advocates like Abigail. Her work will mobilize parents, educators and business, community and faith leaders, among others, to send the message that afterschool programs are vital to the future of our children, families, and communities. Afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help give working families peace of mind. They offer hands-on learning opportunities, opportunities to think critically and collaborate, homework help, mentors, science and technology, healthy snacks and meals, sports and fitness, arts programming, college and job prep, and much more.”
Swanger, who has worked for WAMY the past three summers and began full-time with this organization last November, commented: “I am eager to join the Afterschool Alliance in building support for afterschool programs. In my two years working in the field, I’ve seen time and again the extraordinary difference that afterschool makes in the lives of young people in North Carolina. These programs help students explore their interests, discover their passions, and learn to communicate with peers and adults while giving parents the security that comes from knowing their children are safe and supervised, with opportunities to learn and grow after the school day ends. I look forward to building support for the out-of-school-time opportunities all students need.”
The Community Kids program is an afterschool program located in seven schools in Avery County. It focuses on serving at-risk youth from Kindergarten through Middle School with tutoring, mentoring, social enrichment and health/nutrition. In the 2019-2020 school year, its goal is to serve 225 students. The mission of Community Kids reads to “encourage each student and his/her family to reach their full potential by providing all-encompassing enrichment opportunities, hands-on learning, and experiential activities in a fun, safe and high-quality learning environment.”
Funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and a strong partnership with the local school district and Mountain Alliance allows the program to fulfill its mission.
Each Ambassador will organize a major event for Lights On Afterschool, the Afterschool Alliance’s annual rally for afterschool, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. Most Lights On Afterschool events will be on or around Thursday, October 24. Last year, 1 million people participated in some 8,000 events across the United States and at United States military bases worldwide.
The America After 3:00 p.m. household survey of more than 30,000 families, commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance, found that participation in afterschool programs has increased to 10.2 million students nationwide, up from 6.5 million in 2004. But the unmet demand for afterschool programs has increased as well. Currently, for every child in an afterschool program, there are two more whose parents say they would participate if a program were available. Unmet demand is especially high in rural communities and communities of concentrated poverty. One in five students in the United States currently is unsupervised after the school day ends.
A large and growing body of evidence demonstrates improvements in attendance, behavior, academic achievement and more among children in afterschool programs. Researchers have also found that afterschool programs encourage increased parental involvement – an important building block for student success.
The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to ensure that all children and youth have access to quality afterschool programs. WAMY Community Action, which stands for, and represents, Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey, NC counties, has a motto which reads: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty. And one such way both accomplish their missions is through the Afterschool Alliance program.