DEBERT – The future of an after-school children’s program in Debert is in jeopardy.
Debert Baptist Church has been providing the program, which benefits up to 50 children from Debert Elementary School, for two years from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on school days.
However, the church can no longer afford to offer the program by itself, said Pastor Bill Martin in an email to the Truro Daily News. He added it costs at least $20,000 a year to provide crafts, food, activities, heating, lighting and related children’s services, as well as pay two people to oversee the program. Martin said the community needs to help the initiative or it will not return in time for school next week.
“As people of faith, we saw a need and responded. However … we knew we could not do it alone,” said Martin in the email. “We run a deficit each year and it’s not appropriate for the church to do that because it then puts the church in jeopardy. We’ve seen community fundraisers … and (donations) at times but it’s been hit and miss.”
During a community meeting earlier this week, about 40 people gathered, including people whose children use the program and local politicians.
“The consensus across the board was that we don’t want to lose this,” said Martin, adding since then, a “few people” have called to say they may be able to help.
Karen Casey, the MLA for Colchester North, and Colchester County Coun. Doug MacInnes offered to canvass area businesses, asking for financial support. In addition, a number of community residents will encourage others to help.
Michelle Hamilton is one parent who is spreading the word. Her sons Matt, 9, and Lucas, 6, attend the program regularly and Hamilton has volunteered when possible.
“It’s a safe, warm place for them to go and not be alone and it’s free. It’s a Godsend for sure and the boys love going there,” said Hamilton, adding the provision of a healthy snack at the program is a blessing too.
“When money is tight you buy what’s cheap, not necessarily what’s good. It’s good knowing there are healthy snacks for them.”
Young Lucas added he’d “feel sad” if the program was discontinued because he enjoys “playing there.”
Brother Matt said, “I get to see friends I don’t get to see often (outside of the program) … I learned to be a good friend there … and I would just sit at home watching TV if I didn’t have it to go to.”
Erma Sitser, a deacon at the church and program volunteer, said it would be “a great loss and unpleasant for children to go home to an empty house” if the initiative closed.
And, she said, when a community pulls together it says a lot about its residents.
“It says the community cares for one another. All members feel more secure and comfortable and there’s a connection between each other.”
A report is expected on Friday indicating whether the program will continue.