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Last Thursday night was Buffalo’s largest Lights On Afterschool celebration yet, one of 7,500 celebrations being held across the country that day.  Lights On Afterschool seeks to raise awareness about the need for quality after school programming. The red-carpet event featured a rally in support of afterschool, a special premiere presentation of the film Connected, and live entertainment by Wenzday Atemz and REIGN.

The event began with a rally speech by Bonnie Glazer, Executive Director of Child and Adolescent Treatment Services. She emphasized how talented and driven Buffalo youth are. She also shared some startling facts with the crowd, such as: the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex; and, nationally only 8.4 million (15%) of K-12 children participate in afterschool programs – an additional 18.5 million would participate if a quality program were offered in their community.  Michael Weiner, President of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and Will Keresztes, Buffalo Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Student Support, also spoke at the rally, emphasizing the need for quality after school programming, as well as the value achieved through a systemic, collaborative and coordinated effort. The rally also featured youth readings of proclamations in support of afterschool from local government.

The best part about being at the event was being able to meet the film creators – Buffalo youth. The film Connected was actually created by children that are in an afterschool program, love the program, and can see the benefits they are getting. The film was created when a few of the afterschool program directors decided that something big needed to be done to raise awareness about the need for afterschool programming in our community.  As the film was running you could hear cheers in the crowd from children that recognized their peers, and were proud to be where they were.  The film Connected was created by local youth with the assistance of Sharp Shooters Multimedia Productions.

Seeing the hope in children’s eyes, and their excitement to be there, could really put a smile on anyone’s face. It was very clear that the opportunity to participate in this event and have their voices heard was inspiring and transformative.

Showing their support for afterschool, representatives were present from Buffalo Public Schools, United Way, and the Buffalo Afterschool Network, including Child and Adolescent Treatment Services, Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo, Concerned Ecumenical Ministry, Matt Urban Human Services Center and Northwest Buffalo Community Center.  Everyone involved worked as a team to call for expanded quality afterschool programming; it was clear that the event was successful because of this. The event captured the need for quality afterschool programming for Buffalo’s youth, and the power of collaboration among members of our community.

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