What’s going on after school in Omaha?

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October 11th, 2011

Omaha, NE – Omaha has recently received national recognition for its after-school programs. For this week’s KVNO in the community report, we stopped by one after-school center, where kids are getting ready for Halloween.

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On the third floor of a building in north Omaha, Rodney Evans took me on a tour of a space once used as a nursing home and, at another time, a correctional facility. Today it houses the Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership, or ENCAP, and the third floor is currently being transformed into a haunted house. A large black spider hangs down over the elevator doors, and as Evans moves aside black plastic curtains to direct my attention to a room just to the left…I scream in shock as a “haunted clown” pops out at us.

On ENCAP's 3rd floor, a large black spider hangs down over the elevator doors. (Photo by Angel Martin)

Evans is the youth program manager at ENCAP. He said the haunted house is one of the many projects the group is working on. ENCAP also offers after-school tutoring, career training camps and summer jobs programs. Omaha was recently named one of America’s top cities for just those kinds of after-school opportunities. Barb Faroh is the education initiative director for the city. She said Mayor Jim Suttle supports these programs because they keep young people safe, reduce juvenile crime, support working parents, and provide academic and work force skills for young people. And the city also offered its support financially this year – by including $365,000 in the budget for after-school programs around the city.

“Obviously, I would like to see that amount be a lot more,” she said. “I think it’s important to the community as a whole. But I also understand that in a time when many organizations in the city are working around tight budgets, that it’s quite significant that we were able to include any funding for this effort in the city budget.”

The Mayor’s budget originally included $1.5 million for after-school programs, but the city council trimmed that down. ENCAP was one of the programs that received some city funding. Reverend Dwight Ford is the executive director and has been with this group for the past two years.

These two 16-year old OPS students attend ENCAP's after-school program. (Photo by Angel Martin)

“We have to do right by our young people,” Ford said. “If we say we want to support them in their academic career, and want them to get good grades, then we have to model and support that. We have to find creative ways to introducing the world of education. It’s not just the idea of learning; what we want to do, and what we have done here, is introduce a love for learning.”

Last summer, Ford said he was able to put 100 teens to work through ENCAP’s on-site first employment experience program. But Ford said because of tight economic conditions around the nation, both private and public funding has shrunk, and he said they could only accept 55 teens in this year’s program. Ford said it’s going to take people in every sector of the community to continue to make an impact.

“If you want to see the prison numbers go down, invest in an after-school program. If you want to see violence go down in a community, invest in an after-school program. If you want to see families move out of poverty, invest in an after-school program.”

Tameeka Burks is covering cans with yellow construction paper for the "haunted operating room." (Photo by Angel Martin)

Shortly after school was out, back at ENCAP, about two dozen teens including Maya Evans, and Tameeka Burks gathered in ENCAP’s teen area to get an update about the upstairs haunted house. The two 16-year old Omaha Public High School students are working in the food pantry, which will become, as they call it, a haunted operating room.

“We’re going to have a stuffed dummy under here at the bottom to make it look like another person.” Burks points to the top of what looks like a medical bed, and added, “We’re going to have a person up here covered in blood and screaming.”

Burks said they just started working in the room and have about two weeks to finish up the haunted house project. Every day these teens have a place to go to after school – a place they call home.

“It means a lot and shows us that we really care about us and what we do. It shows that they want to give us opportunities.”

The students said they can get homework help if needed, hang out with friends, take a field trip, or even just get a hot meal.

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