Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories highlighting the 21 agencies to receive United Way's annual campaign funds. The next article will run in Saturday's edition of The Telegram.

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

For quality child care, "you can't beat $5."

That's the cost of a two-hour, after-school program at five sites around Garden City, according to Chad Knight, executive director of the Garden City Family YMCA.

The faith-based wellness and youth development organization operates nine after-school child care programs, including one at the YMCA, 1224 Center St.

At least five of those nine sites wouldn't be possible without the help of the Finney County United Way, which helps make "affordable" but "high quality" care for families of all socioeconomic backgrounds possible, Knight said.

The local United Way is expected to give the YMCA $35,000 from its 2012 annual fundraising campaign, funds that support the YMCA's after-school programs, where kids can catch up on their homework and get help from educators, play learning games or get physical activity outside, and hang out with friends.

"The focus is enrichment on what (the kids) need help with, whether that's help with reading or they need help with math homework," Knight said. "Sometimes there may be language barriers. The parents at home might speak Spanish and can't help them. We help mediate the language barrier."

The funding amount the same the YMCA is receiving this year and received last year benefits between 120 and 150 children at the programs at the following schools: Garfield Early Childhood Center, 121 W. Walnut St.; Victor Ornelas Elementary School, 3401 E. Spruce St.; Alta Brown Elementary School, 1110 E. Pine St.; Buffalo Jones Elementary School, 708 N. Taylor Ave.; and Georgia Matthews Elementary School, 111 E. Johnson St.

Because economic times still are tough, it's all the more reason that the $5 after-school child care sites are available to parents who need the service, Knight said. And the reach of the program goes beyond directly helping parents out.

"This program is catered not only for the kids, but for schools and teachers, too. That's what we want to give 'em that extra enrichment. An extra 20 to 30 minutes can go a long way," Knight said.

Monday afternoon at Georgia Matthews Elementary School, about 15 youngsters caught up on their homework inside the gym before being allowed to take part in indoor arts activities games. The kids also enjoyed a snack of pretzels and crackers before heading outside to the playground to take part in games organized by the site's director, Melissa Koning.

Koning, who has worked at summer camps, schools and has been a baby-sitter, said she really enjoys interacting with the kids after school.

"It's fun to see how the kids change over time. ... Over the summer, you can see how the kids have grown up and stuff," the mother of a 15-month-old daughter said. "When I first came here, it was total chaos every day. But now, it's starting to get more chill, and the kids know what to expect. It's getting to be that the kids really like being here. We all have a good time."

Eight-year-old Maddie Stout said she's been taking part in the after-school program since she was in first grade. The third-grader who was playing Uno, a card game, with other kids, said she likes the program.

"The funnest part is going outside. We usually play on the playground," the third-grader said. "My parents come and get me after they're done with work."

Koning added that the program's benefits abound.

"It's really good all around (because) the parents have a place where their kids can be and the kids have a place where they can get their homework done and they can play games and make friends," she said. "And it's only $5, which is pretty much the cheapest child care around."

Other United Way agencies that will receive funds for 2012 are Kansas Children's Service League; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts; Smart Start; Playground Program; Catholic Social Services; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Finney County RSVP, Inc.; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; United Methodist Mexican American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; Community Day Care; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

Garden City Family YMCA

Address: 1224 Center St.

Hours: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Phone: 275-1199

Director: Chad Knight