A lack of funding could prevent the Dorris Dann Kids Campus in El Monte from offering its much-needed summer enrichment program to at-risk children this year.
“People keep calling and asking if we’re going to have a program this year, and I keep saying, just call back. Call back in a month or so,” said Marguerite Ponce, director. The Dorris Dann Kids Campus, part of Our Saviour Center, a community outreach of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, has offered both summer and afterschool enrichment programs for children for at least three decades.
Pre-pandemic, the six- to eight-week summer program typically offered meals, along with art, music, dance, physical activities, and field trips as well as science and other enrichment classes to at least 150 children in El Monte and neighboring communities, said Jose Vega, operations manager.
Daisy Cardona, 38, recalls joining center visits to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, the beach, and skating, as well as afterschool enrichment programs. “My mom was a single parent, and we needed the help,” she said. “It was a great experience. I spent the summer there rather than being on the streets.”
Her five children have also attended the center. “Before the pandemic, there was a bike club, and Soccer for Success, and all kinds of activities,” she said. “It makes a big difference. They provide somewhere for kids to go after school, rather than being out on the streets. And it saves me money for daycare. I’m a single mom. My kids look forward to it, and so do I.”
It takes about $120,000 to fund the summer program, Vega said.
Because of a pandemic-related drop in attendance the past two years, the Community Service Block Grants administered by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services have not been made available for 2022, he said.
“The first year with Covid, we had only 35 or 40 kids,” Vega said. “Parents were afraid, they didn’t know what to do. The second year, we were up to 60.
“It’s nothing that we did,” he added. “It was impossible for anyone to run a summer program for the last two years, with Covid, with all the restrictions, and parents being afraid to send their kids. The goal for those grants was to have 100-plus children in our program for eight weeks,” he said.
As a result, a surplus of $50,000 in unspent money had to be returned. “I requested an extension for this summer. There are no extensions … and they haven’t released any applications.”
Although he is scouting other grant possibilities, he said, “Right now, we don’t have any funding. There are no contracts, nothing.”
Canon Serena Beeks, executive director of the diocesan Commission on Schools, said the Kids Campus provides much-needed alternatives for the community.
“The Kids Campus does an amazing ministry on a large scale. Whenever I visit in the afternoon, I see large groups of children looking comfortable and involved,” she said. “I see them being cared for and fed, and I see adults paying attention to them – listening and interacting. It’s a busy place, but children obviously feel as though they belong there and are safe. But it’s not just daycare – they are enjoying intellectual challenges, expressing themselves through art, and learning self-regulation and leadership skills. I don’t know how they do it all, but it’s beautiful!”
Ponce said former program participants frequently return to assist teachers “and are really excited about taking this leadership role.”
During the pandemic, the center’s food pantry also distributed drive-through meals to more than a thousand cars weekly. The center also offers weekday childcare, emergency temporary shelter, and employment referrals and other services.
A Soccer for Success program is building back also, Vega said, with at least five local schools and 500 children.
They are also hoping to provide Easter groceries – ham, chicken, potatoes, bread – for about 700 families on April 14, Vega said.
Both Vega and Ponce have rejected the option to charge families for the summer program; they say that would be contrary to their mission.
“A lot of parents really count on us being here in the summer, and I don’t want to let them down,” Vega said.
Despite the lack of funding, Ponce still wants “to do a lot of things this summer that get kids away from that computer they’ve been doing most of their work on. They just need to take a break. Just in case, I want to be ready … (because) every year, I think we’ve done a spectacular program.”
More about Dorris Dann Kids Campus is here. To contribute to the summer program funding, click here (in the “Note” box, enter “summer program” or “kids campus”) or contact Rose J. Gonzalez, Our Saviour Center’s chief development officer, at email@example.com.