Editor's note: This is the 14th in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.



Krystal Richardson has been overseeing the Garden City Family YMCA's after-school program for only a couple of months, but she already has gained an appreciation for what the program's activities mean to the scores of children who are involved.

And once you have an appreciation for that, an understanding of what the Finney County United Way means to the program quickly follows.

The United Way is set to allocate $35,000 in 2014 for the YMCA program, which provides educational, fun and enriching activities for elementary school students after school at six elementary schools around USD 457.

"I want to say it's possible, but right now I don't know if financially the Y could take it on," Richardson, the YMCA's family director who took charge of the after-school program in August, said about the likelihood the program could continue without United Way support. "The United Way definitely makes it possible."

From roughly 4 to 6 p.m. each weekday afternoon, the program offers students a structured place for them to work, play and build relationships with one another and the program's site directors and counselors. The program's sites are located at Alta Brown, Abe Hubert, Buffalo Jones, Georgia Matthews, Gertrude Walker and Victor Ornelas elementary schools.

The United Way funds are used primarily to pay for the 17 YMCA employees who work at the various sites six site directors and 11 counselors as well as snacks and weekly field trips for the students to go swimming at the YMCA. Richardson said she soon will be adding two more counselors to help with the program.

The cost is $1 a day per student, but a portion of the United Way funds also help provide up to $1,000 in scholarships for students at each site who might need financial assistance to participate. Students must sign up for the program, but attendance is voluntary.

"Most kids are there every day of the week," Richardson said.

The six United Way after-school sites currently are serving 151 students, which is up from 138 in 2012 and 117 in 2011.

Alta Brown boasts the largest student participation in the program, with 49 currently signed up this fall, and Buffalo Jones has the smallest group with 14. Abe Hubert has 21, Georgia Matthews 23, and Gertrude Walker and Victor Ornelas each have 22.

A typical day at each of the program's sites would include the students eating snacks; time for homework, silent reading or quiet time; and free time that could include such activities as group games, board games, coloring, building with Legos or craft projects, Richardson said. Students at each site also get to take a field trip each week to swim at the YMCA.

Such structure, whether it be during work or play time, is good for the students, Richardson said.

"If they weren't at the after-school program, I think some of the kids would be getting in trouble," she said.

But the benefits go beyond just having a place to do homework and play games after school, Richardson said. She also touts the relationships and friendships that the students build with each other, as well as with site directors and counselors.

"What they get from the site directors and counselors might be what they're not getting outside the program," she said. "You get the right people in the program with these kids, it can impact their lives forever."

The local United Way's annual fundraising campaign goal is $560,000, which is $10,000 more than last year.

The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 United Way campaign include:

Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney & Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.