No money beyond June

A program in Columbia for youngsters is looking for funding so it can continue


A highly praised after-school program at the east Columbia library has helped dozens of pupils from nearby Cradlerock School and reduced library disruptions, but officials have no money to keep it operating beyond June.

Teen Time organizer Contobia Adams created so much excitement over the program among middle school pupils that she has a waiting list for the free, four-afternoon-a-week sessions, and parents and local leaders love it.

But two grants that produce $33,500 for a small part-time staff, snacks and field trips for 35 children are due to run out after this school year, and library Director Valerie Gross said she has no firm financing for the fall.

"The kids would like it [to continue] through the summer, and parents want it to operate on Fridays, too," Gross said. "What we are hoping for is funding from some source."

Horizon Foundation provided a $15,000 grant, and the Friends of Howard County Library pitched in $18,500 on a one-time basis. The library contributes space, material and staff time.

The program "has been successful beyond our dreams," Gross said. "We're teaching the students to understand they are in control of their decisions, and every decision has a consequence. It was not working with them simply being in the library."

Adams, who started the program a year ago after creating a similar one for the Woodlawn library in Baltimore County, said her idea was to create a program designed to excite middle school pupils who otherwise might prefer to be unsupervised between 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., the hours of the program.

She enrolls every child who shows an interest, she said, and then, using an interview process every six weeks, weeds out those who are not as committed or willing to follow the rules.

During the year, some children leave, and others on the list are admitted.

But the effect of the interviews is to build a bit of exclusivity that makes the program more desirable to the 10- through 14-year-olds the program serves.

"I get them in to find out how fun and rewarding it is," Adams said. "Then we back off and find out the true soldiers who really want to be there. I'm a hard person. I'm not an easy person."

The Lazarus Foundation provided laptop computers to help with homework, and Cradlerock School has worked with the program to enrich it with books and staff support, said Principal Jason McCoy.

"It's a great program at the library," McCoy said, calling it a "safe, nurturing environment."

Student volunteers from Oakland Mills and Atholton high schools help the two staff members.

The children say that it is a cool place to be.

"I like a place to hang out with my friends," said Paul Bikoi, 12, a seventh-grader at Cradlerock.

The children host adult speakers, run a snack store, spend at least an hour on homework, do arts and crafts and still have time to socialize.

Some afternoons feature programs on dealing with peer pressure, drugs and alcohol education, poetry reading and multicultural presentations.

"Here, we can actually open up our potential and be ourselves," said sixth-grader Alex Yu, 11. "If you have any problems, you can get answers to your questions."

Mustafa Qadir, 11, said he likes all the activities at Teen Time.

"When I go home, I just do my homework, and I don't have anything else to do," he said.

Chantal Bikoi, Paul Bikoi's aunt, said her two children and her nephew love participating in the program.

"They enjoy it so much," she said. "I like the fact that they keep the kids busy, and they have speakers and homework time."

The program sprang from a chronic problem that the library was having with exuberant, and often mischievous, Cradlerock pupils who would disturb other patrons after school let out, but before their parents returned from work.

County Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat whose district includes the library, said he helped arrange for the county to replant some shrubs in a way that would discourage kids from banging on the library windows as they walked home from school, but the Teen Time program has done more to solve the problem.

"I think it's a great program," he said. "I've been out there multiple times. I think it is exactly the kind of program we need to fund and improve on and expand."

Donna Thewes, a community and PTA activist from North Laurel who is running for County Council as a Republican, also is a big booster.

"I've visited four or five times," Thewes said. "[Adams] has done a wonderful job."

Gross said the size of the library's program is limited by funding and space.

She said she hopes that if money can be found to keep Teen Time operating, that a larger room can be provided in a few years when plans are to move the library's administrative staff to Ellicott City.

Richard M. Krieg, Horizon's director, said the foundation normally provides money to help programs get started, but then withdraws.

"We wanted to have a sustainability plan by the end of the grant period that does not include Horizon," he said.

Krieg said that last year many of the program's pupils raised their grades while library disruptions were down 75 percent - facts that might attract other organizations to fund it.

"We'll work with them, but we're sort of getting down to the end of the road here" financially, he said.

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