Children swing from monkey bars and play kickball at the 14th and Chestnut Community Center in Terre Haute after school on a recent weekday. They come here because it’s free and many of their parents cannot afford to pay for after school care.
Dion Riley is one of the children who came to the community center as a child. He grew up in a moderately poor family. He is now 18 years old and volunteers to help these kids at the after school care program. He says it kept him out of trouble and now he’s paying it forward.
“The people that I hang around with, they’re my influence on how I act,” he says. “So if I’m in a good environment, that’s how I’m going to grow up, which I did.”
A Methodist group started the program several years ago to help Vigo County’s most vulnerable population. It has grown, and today as many as 70 kids a day rely on the program.
The Economic Environment
Terre Haute has been part of an economic roller coaster over the past decade. Several large businesses have relocated, leading to an unemployment rate of 11 percent. One in three children in Terre Haute lived poverty in 2009, according to the most recent report from the Annie E. Casey foundation. Mayor Duke Bennett says the city is doing all it can to get businesses to move back in to the area and help reduce the poverty rate.
“Right now it’s all about ups and downs and cycles and we have nothing but a good future here,” he says. “So it’s up to us here as a community to make sure we follow through with those things that make children not be in a poverty setting.”
Ray Azar is the director of student services for the Vigo County School Corporation and he says he has noticed the effects of poverty in local schools.
“I think that many of our parents live on just basics,” he says, “and the families survive on just a small amount of income and I think that affects a lot of things including medical care and dental care. It may even affect supervision at home when school is not in session.”
State Reduces Funding To Program
Vigo County Schools have positive behavior programs, emergency dental care, and free and reduced lunches to help low income student. But Azar says all these programs depend on money that is hard to come by.
“State funding has been cut to the schools,” he says. “It continues to be cut and unless we can get funds to fill in where those budgets have been cut, I think it will have a negative effect on our schools and our children.”
In the end, most of the responsibility of caring for needy family falls to local charities that give away food and other necessities. But even these are struggling to stay afloat because of a decline in financial donations.
The 14th and Chestnut Community Center recently had a fundraiser that will get it through this year, but it still needs more money to continue its programs next year.
Reporter Carmen Huff contributed to this report.