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As a parent participant on the Youth and Parent Panel during Monday’s summit on after-school programs, Pearlston Porcher praised the impact the Goodwill GoodGuides and Mill Village Farms programs have had on her granddaughter, Alexia.

Her final comments seemed to highlight after-school programs value and their need in Greenville County.

“I think more kids need to be exposed to after-school programs,” Porcher said. “They provide safe havens for some of them. They provide food, which some of them don’t get. They provide them with education. It provides them with a place they can at least get some stability in their lives, because sometimes they don’t have that. There needs to be more children involved.”

Approximately 150 educators and policy makers gathered at the Kroc Center in Greenville for the Aligning Afterschool, Growing Graduates: Greenville County Afterschool Summit Monday to hear speakers such as Chris Smith from Boston After School & Beyond share ideas for improvement.

Each day, approximately 113,000 children in South Carolina under the age of 18 spend the afternoon at home unsupervised. The reasons why range from cost to lack of transportation, but also because many parents are unaware such programs exist in Greenville County.

One of the initiatives of Monday’s summit, part of the GradNation campaign, led by America’s Promise Alliance, was to find ways to reach parents and educate them about the opportunities that exist in their communities.

Melissa Huff, director of United Way of Greenville’s BOOST (Building Opportunities In and Out of School) initiative, said the Upstate is home to many valuable after-school and summer programs for children.

“Our major purpose was to bring together people from a variety of different sectors to talk about the value of after-school and summer learning, and we brought in national leaders from across the country to talk about some of the proven models, how we can collaborate, and  how we can have successful partnerships across the county,” Huff said. “Really, it’s just to raise that awareness about the value of these programs and talk about what are some of the opportunities we have in Greenville and what are some of the barriers to getting high-quality programs to kids, especially in under-resourced neighborhoods.”

Jeanette Brewster shared her daughter’s experiences in the Bridges to a Brighter Future program, a nationally awarded comprehensive college access and success program for Greenville County high school and college students whose potential outdistances their circumstances. Like many parents, Brewster struggles to juggle work, her children, and other obligations.

“I have six children, and it’s not easy,” she said.

She added that she’d seen nothing but a positive impact on her daughter, who is now a freshman at the University of South Carolina.

“My daughter herself told me, ‘The Bridges program was better than any counseling I could have gone through,’” Brewster said.

Student participants on the panel included Alexia Porcher, Davis Kirby and Ashley Martinez, a fourth-grader at Paris Elementary School.

Martinez participates in Neighborhood Focus, a free, faith-based out-of-school time program that provides year-round academic support, spiritual enrichment, character education and life skills development for under-resourced children and students in Greenville.

She said one of her favorite parts of the program was getting help to do homework.

“Some of the homework I do, it’s difficult and I don’t understand it, but with the help of the counselors or teachers, I understand it,” she said.

Kirby, a senior at Greenville High School, said he appreciated the exposure he received to colleges through campus tours.

“Over the last three years that I’ve been involved with Bridges, I’ve visited over 20 colleges,” he said. “Some of those colleges are colleges I’m applying to now. My really good friends and my best friends, they’re all from Bridges. That’s great because these are people who come from situations similar to me. It’s just great to meet new people.”

Huff said there are about 200 programs in Greenville County that offer expanded learning. Those programs include programs facilitated through the YMCA, Salvation Army, churches and schools.

Parents interested in learning more about the various programs can contact BOOST for guidance. More details about the program can be found at boostgreenville.org.

Pearlston Porcher said she appreciated having a program she could trust to send her granddaughter to.

“For me, it’s that they embrace the children,” she said. “They take what they do very seriously, and they really are trying to do good by these children.”

The Aligning Afterschool, Growing Graduates: Greenville County Afterschool Summit (the Summit) is one of 100 GradNation Community Summits taking place around the country as part of the GradNation campaign, led by America’s Promise Alliance, to raise high school graduation rates to 90 percent by 2020 and increase postsecondary enrollment and completion. The premier sponsor of the national GradNation Community Summits initiative is AT&T.

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