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Teen Reach afterschool program to shut down after state grant suspended

Parents, children and instructors packed a room at Teen Reach’s Midway center Thursday to say goodbye to their beloved afterschool program.

Teen Reach expects to close Friday, a week after the state suspended the grant that kept the program running.

About 60 people gathered Thursday at the center, 3843 W. 63rd Ave., to celebrate the program’s 17 years in the city.

“These kids grew up here. This is like their second home,” said Vanessa Schwartz, program supervisor for the youth center at Metropolitan Family Services, the program’s parent organization. “The loss of this program has really impacted them.”

A letter notifying Metropolitan Family Services about the suspension of Teen Reach’s $169,000 grant came April 3 and asked that the program stop all operations that same day.

“The kids were very disappointed and heartbroken. They were asking if they could go to another facility to continue the program and fundraise during the summer to bring it back,” said Jessica Oros, the former Teen Reach coordinator at Metropolitan Family Services.

The program managed to stay open one more week to give parents and kids the chance to find alternatives.

“We’re concerned with where the kids are going to go after school, and who’s going to help them with homework,” Oros said, noting only two of the 10 schools the children attend have afterschool programs.

The center was an invaluable resource for some parents.

“Many parents in the neighborhood don’t speak English, so they’d bring their kids here for them to get help with homework,” said Nancy Murillo, whose 12-year-old son, Alexander, attended the program.

Teen Reach provided tutoring, substance abuse and violence education, family counseling and other services to about 75 Chicago-area children between 6 and 17 years old. The program started in 1998 and became part of Metropolitan Family Services a year later. It had been relying on state grants since its beginning.

Teen Reach’s funding cut is part of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s suspension of $26 million in grants to social services and public health programs.

A spokeswoman for Metropolitan Family Services said other programs, including three of its early childhood education centers, are also at risk because of the $1.2 million gap in the state’s Child Care Assistance program. More than 200 families could be affected, the organization said.

In a statement to the Sun-Times, Rauner’s office said evaluating the current budget is part of the solution to the state’s financial shortfalls.

Metropolitan Family Services is not ready to give up, and for some of the kids who attended Teen Reach, keeping the program comes first.

“Education is more important than money,” 13-year-old Teen Reach student Vanessa Melendez wrote in a letter to Illinois senators.

Oros said the organization will keep advocating and looking for ways to restart Teen Reach.

“The kids don’t want to give up on our program,” she said. “We’re going to continue our relationship with the parents until we hopefully get our grant back.”