after school rally 050724SPRINGFIELD — Senate Democrats joined forces with advocates and partners Tuesday at the Illinois State Capitol to bolster support for funding to save after-school programs.

“As a father raising two sons, I’m constantly looking to create a nurturing and supportive environment that they can thrive in,” said State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago). “This is precisely what after-school programs offer to the young members of our communities.”

21st Century Community Learning Centers is a federal program that provides funding for after-school programs that support the creation of community learning centers for youth who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. Advocates are rallying for Senate Bill 2943, which would appropriate $50 million in funding to support over 40,000 youths currently enrolled in programs.

"As someone who stands to lose a lot if we don’t fund after-school programs, I am deeply invested in the outcomes of these programs,” said State Senator Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago), who joined Brighton Park advocates from her district at the rally. “I've witnessed firsthand the consequences of underinvestment in our youth. These programs offer more than just education, they provide safe havens and nurturing environments for children. It’s not just about supporting our youth —  it's a matter of life and death, particularly in communities plagued by violence where these programs serve as beacons of hope.”

Expanded commitments will facilitate the employment of youth program coordinators and parent mentors, ensuring the continuity of essential services within community-based schools. Nonprofit organizations would be eligible to apply for new grants, giving them the opportunity to enhance their resources, expand their outreach and stabilize the field.

After-school programs through organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America and the YMCA play a vital role in fostering social-emotional health, academic growth and more. Advocates expressed that the impact extends beyond the students in the program, it also affects teachers and staff who face layoffs, as well as working parents who rely on these programs for child care options.

“My own introduction to carpentry and the arts altered the course of my life by equipping me with the skills necessary to see beyond my circumstances and provided invaluable social-emotional support in navigating the challenges within my community,” said State Senator Willie Preston (D-Chicago).  “These after-school programs serve as guiding lights, steering young individuals toward upward mobility and empowering them to see beyond their challenging environments.”

“I take great pride in supporting this initiative and championing the legislation in the Senate,” said Villivalam. “It's crucial to recognize that if we don't act now, our youth will encounter a cliff we cannot afford to ignore."

Senators Villivalam, Villanueva and Preston will engage in negotiations regarding funding allocations for after-school programs in the upcoming weeks.