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Expanded grant program helps to ensure summer days are filled with enrichment for Erie County youth

For kids with no place to go when school is out, days can often be spent bored at home or out on the streets of local communities, unsupervised and un-engaged. Thanks, in part, to the return of a county-funded program, that won’t be the case for hundreds of children.

Not-for-profit community centers, youth organizations, summer camps and other agencies across Erie County will be filled with the sounds of children this summer, with help from $500,000 in funding from the county’s Operation Prime Time grant program.

An open call for proposals goes out each year, and agencies send in their requests. County Youth Bureau Director Ben HIlligas said the programs that are chosen to receive the grants are those that are well-established.

“We partner with really strong agencies that already have a presence in their community, that know their community, that know the needs of the families that they work with,” said Hilligas. “So we’re able to partner with those agencies, provide them with the resources they need to provide a summer program, and then they tailor that program to the needs of the community.”

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
At the Valley Community Center, child care and after-school programs take place year-round.

Hilligas was among a group of Erie County officials who announced this year’s funding (which is up nearly 20 percent from last year) on Friday at South Buffalo’s Valley Community Center. The Valley Community Center is among the 61 organizations receiving a grant through Operation Prime Time in 2016. The individual grants range from $2,614 to $10,000.

Lori Overdorf, Director of Development and Youth Services for the Valley Community Association, said the grant the Association received from Prime Time provides for a morning meal and hours of activity for more than 50 of South Buffalo’s children.

“We have art class, we have gym, we have computers, we have gardening. We have a partnership with the Sportsman Tavern – they come in and do guitar classes. Two days we’re on site, and then two days we’re off-site. The off-site days we go to field trips and its everything from educational, cultural, recreational. So from Darien Lake to Chucky Cheese to museums to pottery places,” Overdorf explained.

Overdorf said if not for programs like those at the Valley Community Center, the children they serve would likely have little to do when school is out.

“They would just be hanging on the corner, riding their bikes in the street, really nothing. We aim to have it be educational, enriching and fun,” said Overdorf. “They may not realize that they’re learning a science lesson or learning about a famous artist while doing their art project, but they are. We want to keep that summer learning loss to a minimum and keep them learning throughout the summer.”

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was joined by county officials and more than a dozen South Buffalo children at the Valley Community center as he announced increased funding for Operation Prime Time grants.

That aspect that may remain a secret to many children is part of the greater intention of the Operation Prime Time program. The adult-supervised, ten-week programs are meant to be enriching for school-age kids, while providing them a safe place to spend summer days.

“It truly is a great investment on behalf of the people of Erie County in what truly is our greatest resource – our children,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Among the 61 organizations receiving grants, 12 are new to Prime Time, but not to Erie County.

“These are existing programs that have been in place that have shown and demonstrated that they’re doing a great job with the children, with the youth, throughout Erie County. This gives those groups an opportunity to continue to do good and great works for the summer for our children,” said Erie County District 1 Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, who also noted that the opportunities provided are extended to children of all socio-economic backgrounds in urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.