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After-School Lessons for Inner-City Kids

May 21, 1987|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

"Tuesdays . . . yuck," fourth-grader Sengaik Yeoh told a stranger.

Tuesdays, classmate Danny Ozuna agreed, "feel weird."

When the last bell rings on Tuesdays, Sengaik and Danny must leave Norwood Street Elementary School, south of downtown, and go home to TV cartoons and, one hopes, homework until their parents get home from work.

But four afternoons a week, the two boys and 40 other children happily stay after school. Parents help them put on skits; they teach cooking, crafts and, courtesy of the Metro YMCA, swimming at the Y's new Ketchum rooftop pool downtown.

This after-school program is unusual--no, it is downright extraordinary--because it is operated, on the cheap, by parents who live in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, an area that gets few services from the county's 19,000 charities.

Twice, funders who searched nationwide for models of effective, low-cost neighborhood programs have awarded grants to the Norwood School children, whose program costs only about $6 per child per week.

But instead of flourishing, expanding to serve more poor inner city kids, the Norwood program and two others like it are withering for lack of money.

The Norwood children, together with youngsters at Trinity Street and Vermont Street elementary schools--which serve impoverished neighborhoods near USC--received a $20,000 grant last year from Project Hometown America, a grant program of American Express.

The Los Angeles area United Way chipped in with a $12,000 matching grant to the programs' sponsor, the Central Park Five Council, a coalition of neighborhood organizations in the area around USC. The council donated an additional $8,000 to complete the match.

Reader's Digest recently made a $5,000 grant to the Norwood program after a nationwide search for model programs serving Hispanics.

Seeking Local Support

The programs for the three schools have begun soliciting support from local small businesses. William Hancock, who owns a small shopping mall at 42nd Street and Broadway, bought $900 worth of soccer uniforms for 32 kids, who in return show up once a week to water plants in his parking lot and clean up outside.

Last year the three-school effort cost $3.50 per child per week, according to Barbara Gardner, director of USC's Office of Urban Affairs, which provided administrative support. The services provided to the children have been expanded since then, Gardner said, and costs run $6 per child per week. Parents pay about one-fourth of the costs.

Half of the costs are for part-time coordinators, who are paid $7 per hour. But as parents develop their volunteer skills, these coordinators can work fewer hours.

A key element in the success of these three programs is getting some poor parents involved as what might be called semi-volunteers.

"Our parents are paid a small stipend, $8 for teaching a one-hour class that meets twice each week," said Leticia Herrera, community outreach coordinator for USC's Office of Urban Affairs.

Incentive for Volunteers

The $8 each mother gets would never attract someone looking for work, but it creates an incentive so that many volunteer many more hours.

"It is just enough money," Herrera said, "so they can justify coming here instead of working."

One parent, Teresa Pineda, noted that "we decided" to teach the children how to make fabric flowers, rather than pay an outsider.

"The parents are learning time management, fund raising, scheduling, budgeting," said Norma Nevarez, who was a part-time coordinator for the program last summer and now works at the school in another capacity.

Want to Serve More

The program serves just 4% of the more than 1,000 children who on any day are crammed into Norwood Elementary, a massive Depression-era concrete building surrounded by a jungle of temporary classrooms that have become permanent additions. The parents say they want to serve more children.

But the Norwood program will have trouble as soon as its current grant funds run out.

The programs for Trinity Street and Vermont Street, two other year-round schools that together serve more than 100 children, will run out of money in late June. If the programs end, the children will be left to the vagaries of the streets and TV cartoons, according to Herrera, a lifelong resident of the area.

"Kids have very few alternatives to getting into trouble in poor communities, and we spend exorbitant sums when kids are neglected after school," USC's Gardner said.

The program, Gardner said, can provide a year of after-school care for about the same amount of money as confining a youngster to Juvenile Hall for three days.

Need Unrecognized

"It is just shocking that so few organizations recognize the need for programs for kids year-round instead of just in the summer," she added.

She noted that few charitable services are available in the poor neighborhoods served by the program.

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