ILWACO - The popular Peninsula Learns afterschool program has four weeks to come up with needed funding or it will be forced to close its doors to 60-plus students who take advantage of its services.

The well has run dry for the program, which was originally funded through a three-year 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant in 1999, and most recently by a smaller grant from Pacific County.

"We just found out about that Thursday," said Peninsula Learns site coordinator Jenny Schmidt. "And so right now we're kind of back to stage one."

How did Peninsula Learns end up in this situation? They were turned down by the same people who gave them the money to start.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant is offered by the state of Washington through money it receives from the federal government. In 1999, Peninsula Learns received almost $600,000, dispersed over three years, which paid for all operating costs and staffing. The money from that grant ran out sometime last school year, which caused Peninsula Learns to cut-back its monthly budget and offered programs. A $12,000 Pacific County grant received in September allowed the program to get by on a bare-bones budget of about $5,000 a month.

Peninsula Learns applied for the 21st Century grant for $198,000 this October, but were turned down. 21st Century is a very sought-after grant, with over 50 applicants this time, and only eight receiving money.

"There wasn't anything wrong with our application," said original site coordinator for Peninsula Learns, Erin Glenn. "It's just competitive."

The money is vital to the success of the program because, as Schmidt said, it can't be run as a solely volunteer program. So to keep the after-school program alive for the final six months of the school year, they need at least $30,000.

"The grant was our main avenue that we were pursuing," said Schmidt. "And now we just have to look elsewhere and see."

Schmidt says Peninsula Learns will be looking to the community for help. They have put together a community meeting at the Hilltop Elementary School library on Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. to get advice from anyone who supports Peninsula Learns, hopefully coming up with some ideas on how they can keep the program going beyond the expiration of current funding on Dec. 19.

Schmidt said that she is positive that they can continue, even without a big money grant.

"There is a definite need in the community for a program like this," said Schmidt. "That's evident by the amount of kids that use it everyday. It may look differently then it does even now. And right now it's different then it was when it started. But I think there is still definitely a need for this kind of program."

Fernando Rodriguez, who is an academic advisor for the program, said that is particularly noticeable with the Hispanic students who attend.

"The whole Hispanic community that lives on the Peninsula has benefited from the program," said Rodriguez. "Because the kids are improving their skills. One of them is English. All of them, the kids I know, they speak more English than in the beginning." But when asked where the kids would go as an option if the program closed, Ramirez, whose own children attend Peninsula Learns, simply answered softly, "I don't know."

Though positive about their future, the leadership of Peninsula Learns remains realistic, as their community meeting to create a program-saving plan comes only 15 days before their after-school program runs out of money.

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