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Thousands of youngsters between the ages of 5 and 17 benefit every day from the collaboration of area agencies that provide after-school programs dedicated to providing a safe place for children while their parents are working.

"After-school programs are an essential part of our overall theme, 'A Life Changes When a Community Cares'," said Barbara L. Laughlin, general chairwoman of the 1997 United Way Campaign, to reach a goal of $18.3 million before the end of this month.

"The agencies that are part of the collaborative effort represent all of Erie County. The United Way, through the generous support of the community, is able to fund programs that are citywide and reach out to the suburban and rural areas as well."

One example is the YWCA of Western New York and its School Age Child Care Programs.

The YWCA is the largest provider of school-age child care in Western New York, offering extended day programs in 38 schools in 19 school districts.

"With the assistance of the United Way," said YWCA Executive Director Susan Gaska, "we are able to help make sure that 1,200 children are cared for before and after school hours each day when many parents have a normal workday that starts before and ends later than their child's school day.

"We provide high-quality, safe, affordable programs with flexible hours to meet the needs of today's working family."

She said the YWCA program includes indoor and outdoor games, music, arts and crafts and special events, and a part of each day is designated as "homework/quiet time."

The YWCA also operates an Alternate Child Care Program for children ages 5 to 12 on teacher conference days, selected school holidays and seasonal school recesses. Alternate Care operates at selected locations, including the Downtown Program Center, the Makowski Early Childhood Center, the West Seneca Developmental Center, and in the Williamsville, Iroquois, Sweet Home, Cleveland Hill and East Aurora school districts.

Ms. Gaska said: "Both extended day and alternate programs alleviate some of the stress and worry experienced by parents who cannot find reliable home care and do not wish to leave their children unsupervised at home during non-school hours. The programs are designed to promote positive self-esteem and appreciation for each child's background and culture."

Diane Rowe, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo, said her organization has a 70-year history of providing after-school programs and guidance.

"The organization was formed in 1926 by the Rotary Club of Buffalo," she said. "It was their intent to create a youth agency with programs designed to create an alternative to the juvenile delinquency of that year. Over the past 70 years, that one clubhouse has grown into five clubhouse locations throughout the inner city."

Providing a wide range of services for youngsters ages 6 to 18 at the five clubs, an estimated 3,000 children in economically depressed areas of the city take advantage of the program.

"Our mission," she said, "is to provide appropriate and diversified programs and activities that serve to attract and hold area youth to the clubs. We provide environments that teach children the tools needed to build positive lives, attitudes and behavior, done through a university accredited, nationally recognized, youth-based curriculum of prevention and intervention."

The Boys and Girls Club of East Aurora shares the same goals and its executive director, Gary D. Schutrum, said: "We seek to help all East Aurora youth, ages 7 through 18, to help them live a full, satisfying and productive life.

"Our mission is to provide youth with positive alternative activities during their non-school hours. These alternatives greatly reduce the opportunity for participation in delinquent behaviors and assist youth in becoming responsible, contributing citizens and leaders."

Jan Peters, executive director of the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers, said the 100-year-old organization operates programs in Buffalo that include Children and Youth Services, a Youth Advocacy Program and a "Teen-age Possibilities" program.

Those programs provide educational activities, including math, reading, science and computer skills, as well as recreation, homework assistance and counseling to help adolescents develop sexual responsibility.

"There are other agencies," said Ms. Laughlin, "funded by the United Way, that represent our youth all over Erie County, including the Jewish Center of Greater Buffalo, and all of them are vital to the members of the larger family that is our community.

"With the caring investment of that community, we can change the lives of those youths in need of a better life. We can realize our vision of the future, one where children will live in safe, healthy homes that are free from abuse by providing effective parent training and education.

"Families and individuals will have the resources necessary to get back on their feet in spite of difficult times or personal disasters. Parents will enter the work force free from concern for their children, as the critical need for high-quality child care is met through comprehensive programs that contribute to the growth and development of our children."

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