Columbus program aims to help middle school students in summer

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They’re too old for day care and too young to have jobs.

So middle school-age kids have unsupervised time on their hands during the summer and face the temptation of becoming involved in crime and drugs.

For the past two years, the Berwyn

East Civic Association has created an alternative through its Youth Work Corps.

"It’s the last real chance to affect their character" before they enter high school, explained civic association member Quay Barnes as she accepted a certificate of appreciation from Columbus City Council July 30.

Instead of allowing the young people to just hang out and maybe get into trouble, the program puts their time to use helping the neighborhood, Barnes said.

The program has enlisted 40 young people in its first two years. Most are enrolled at Johnson Park Middle School, but it is open to middle school students from all far east neighborhoods.

The six-week effort, which took place from June 18-July 27, was funded through grants from the Columbus Foundation and United Way of Central Ohio. The Neighborhood Pride Center East also supported the program, and Christ United Methodist Church provided a home base for activities.

Several area businesses, including the Hall-Mart store, chipped in, and the kids raised almost $1,000 through candy sales, selling Donato’s coupon books and a car wash at Heritage Day Care Center.

The participants spent two and a half hours a day on community service projects, and another two and a half hours on personal enrichment activities.

Service projects included assisting the staff of Heritage Day Care Center with office duties and interacting with the senior clients at the center.

They helped unload 10,000 pounds of food at the Barnett Road Baptist Church food pantry, showing up twice a week to sort and deliver groceries to residents in need.

They went to Johnson Park Middle School to clean and fix up the classrooms for the coming year. According to the calendar created to chart their accomplishments, the work at the school was an "eye-opener" on the work that must be done to repair the damage done to school property by students during the year.

They also helped spruce up Scottwood Elementary School, and put in 153 hours working at Christ United Methodist Church, plus additional hours assisting with the Daily Bread Summer Academic Excellence Ministry child care program.

Branching out throughout the neighborhood, the kids teamed up with Keep Columbus Beautiful to pick up 52 bags of litter and plant begonias in its place around Liv-Moor Park.

The program isn’t all work. The group enjoyed trips to Eastland Bowling Lanes and Olive Garden restaurant, and met Mayor Michael Coleman during a playground outing.

The participants continue to meet during the school year to assist such efforts as the food pantry, Barnes said.

The success of the program has other neighborhood associations looking into replicating its efforts.

In other business, council approved the creation of an enterprise fund for the construction and maintenance of two downtown parking garages.

Columbus has initiated plans to building the garages with a total of 1,400 spaces, that will replace surface lot spaces being lost through other development efforts.

Auditor Hugh Dorrian explained that the enterprise fund, which will collect money from a Tax Increment Financing district near Easton, is being created to keep the projects from draining the general fund or the capital improvements budget.

Columbus created its first TIF district, which generates revenue for public improvements, in 1996. The effort was so successful that it was expanded in 2003 to include "remote districts" so that funds from one area can be used for improvements in another location, according to Dorrian.

TIF funds from the Tuttle Mall are used for the Spring-Sandusky interchange, and up to $5 million collected from the Easton district will be used for the parking garages, the auditor said.

About $2 million has already been spent on design and architectural fees, leaving $3 million available.

While he could offer no concrete guarantees, Dorrian said he was comfortable that the garages could be built with the TIF funds and without hurting the general fund, for city operations or capital improvements fund, for equipment purchases and major projects.

The garages will also be supported through assessments and impact fees on property owners, as well as parking fees, Dorrian added.

Development Director Boyce Safford said he has received a "positive response" from the business owners who will be paying the assessments.

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