By Ola Mullikin
My name is Ola Mullikin. My 8-year-old son Hayden has been attending the Homer Boys and Girls Club since approximately March of this year. I am writing to express the need to keep this club open for the community of Homer, as well as its neighboring communities. My intent with this letter is to tell my personal story with the hope of showing the bigger issue of the need to keep this program alive.
My research on this club has shown me two main themes:
1. This club is needed.
2. This club needs a permanent home. Without a home, it will continue to flounder.
My involvement with Boys and Girls Club of Homer just started, and as my kids get older – I also have a 5-year-old daughter – these services are quickly becoming my focus. I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to think about the club at first. However, after several visits, I found that I was very impressed with the staff and the programs provided. They care about these kids. The main issue that has kept me away until now was, and still is: Do I risk losing my child’s spot in a good childcare program, only to suddenly have to scramble to find a place for him to go if the club closes … again?
One major item of concern is the affordability and availability to Homer parents of a safe, high-quality care program for kids in the age range of 6 and up. I will be paying roughly $4,000 to keep my children in a childcare system for just this summer. This is a significant amount of money. These fees are across the board and, as far as my research shows, these costs are consistent throughout most providers in Homer.
When I registered my son for the club, the cost was $75 for the entire school year. In years past, I believe there have been summer programs at the club at a rough estimate of $200 per session. Compare the two, and you are able to see just how amazingly affordable this club can be. I do wonder if these low fees have had a negative impact on funding for the program.
I know there must be rules and regulations that dictate how the club determines their fees. With this all said, I am personally willing to pay more. I understand that not everyone would agree with me on this – and for good reasons. However, I believe a sliding scale format could be a viable option.
If you haven’t heard yet, I can tell you firsthand that finding consistent, quality childcare in Homer can be next to impossible. The providers are out there, but they are almost always full. I have a wonderful childcare provider, whom I’ve used for nearly eight years. I love them, or else I would not have stayed there for eight years.
Now that my son is nearing the age of nine, however, I am quickly reaching a point at which this is not necessarily the best place for him to be, simply because he is outgrowing that type of childcare system. He needs a place to be with kids his age: to learn, to explore and to have fun. The Boys and Girls Club can and should be that place.
I am a working mom who needs this service in Homer. I don’t work full-time, but I have enough commitments outside of work that I need a place like this for my kids to go to. I know for a fact there are many parents who work full time, with some also being single parents. What will they do with the club being closed? What will they do once school starts and they don’t have a safe place for their kids to go between the hours of 3-6 p.m. while they finish their workday? There really are no options for this age group — that I am aware of — outside the club.
There are a lot of wonderful summer programs for kids in Homer, but their scheduled activities usually occur right in the middle of my workday and are sporadic. They aren’t Monday through Friday programs, every week, all summer long, which is what most working parents need.
Dwindling attendance was another theme I took notice of in my research. I was amazed to read that membership and attendance used to be so high years ago. I can only voice my own opinion as to the reasons I see attendance declining: inconsistency and lack of trust. A working parent cannot use, or depend on a program that always seems to be in limbo. People will never know if it will remain open or end up closing. The summer program needs to be known and the information made available as soon as March in order to get the summer months settled before school is out in May. If I wait, I guarantee I will be left scrambling. I can’t take a “wait and see” approach with this issue, as I am sure many other parents can’t do either.
I also note lots of interest within the community to use the Homer Education and Recreation Center building for what I read was its intended purpose: education and recreation. It makes total sense to make the HERC building, or the land it is on, a community center for Homer. While I do not know all of the politics or the larger issues surrounding this building or the club, what I do know is that my son is really bummed that the club is closing. While the financial aspect is really only felt by us parents, it is the kids who ultimately pay the negative price.
I am really sad to see the club in a constant state of limbo. There is so much potential, and even more need for this program to remain in Homer, in a safe, permanent home. If the town of Homer wants to keep the younger working families in Homer, then efforts must be made to keep this program alive so that these families can continue to work and support this great town.
Ola Mullikin has been living in Alaska since 1997 and permanently in Homer since about 2001. She works at South Peninsula Hospital and has two kids ages 8 and 5.
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