FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 25, 2012) -- With some after-school program budgets shrinking, rallies like the Lights on After-school open house held Oct. 18 at the Fort Rucker Youth Center bring awareness to how important after-school programs are to children, parents and the community.

The open house spotlighted the numerous after-school programs available on Fort Rucker, and Jeanet Pascua, Fort Rucker Youth Center training specialist, said that the opportunity for parents and the community to take a closer look at the programs was invaluable.

"The open house is a way for people to see inside our programs. People viewed the learning opportunities that we offer to children who participate in our after-school programs and learned how important they are to their children," she said, adding that the open house was open to all Families of children and youth ages 6-18 years-old of military, Department of Defense civilians and Fort Rucker contractors.

The programs provide a safe and supervised space for children to engage in creative and educational activities, but a rocky economic climate and budget tightening at the local, state and federal levels have put these programs at risk, according to

The goal of the rally was to educate the public and parents on what the youth and soon to be teen centers offer children and teenagers and why the programs are a valuable community asset.

"We have a game room, a gymnasium and a technology lab to help keep the children's minds engaged and constantly learning. We have a power hour, which is homework time where students can earn points for rewards," said Pascua. "Our Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills program offers a variety of instructional sport and art classes like piano, ballet and taekwondo classes all year long.

"We also have an arts and crafts room, and a teen and middle school room. The children are separated by ages, but mingle together in a few rooms to enhance learning," she said.

An informational video played continuously throughout the afternoon telling viewers what the children and mentors thought about the program, and parents and children watching the video seemed impressed with all the available activities.

"My son has been involved in the program since 2008; I like the program values and all it has to offer. They do so many things, he is so happy here," said Heather Casteel of her son Justin. "I feel safe with him participating in the activities and I know all the programs have really furthered his education. He can take a computer apart if he wanted to."

Justin, who is looking forward to moving to the teen center, said he would be sad if the program went away.

"I like the arts and crafts room because there are a lot of things to make there. My favorite thing to make is the paracord bracelets. I have made so many friends here that I don't go to school with," he said.

Special activities were held during the rally, including a button-making session with a 4H extension agent, a mancala tournament and prize drawings. Pizza and juice were served for youth and their parents.

Parents and guests could be seen talking with youth activities staff at the information booth and prize table, and child youth program assistants were available to answer questions about the program.

"Our programs provide safe and fun activities, and provide a means for our military and civilian parents to be in compliance with GC Policy Memo 12-39 - Fort Rucker Child Supervision Policy," said Pascua, adding that studies have consistently shown that children involved in an after-school program benefit because they have an outlet to foster their creativity, have a place to establish new friendships and have homework help, which leads to success in schools. "Our programs also promote healthy eating habits with our food program."

The programs have club partner memberships in 4H Clubs, the Boys and Girls Club and with the Josephson Institute for Youth Ethics.

This is not the first time a rally has been held to bring awareness to the programs.

"We have had different Lights on After School celebrations. Last year the children performed in a talent show, but this is the first time that our SAS 101 news reporters, in partnership with Susan Bailey's husband, conducted interviews and starred in our premier information video that played at our event," said Pascua.

The teen center opening is a much anticipated event that staff and children are looking forward to.

"We are looking forward to the opening of our brand new Middle School-Teen Center in the next couple of months. That will allow more participants and spaces in the School Age Services and SKIES programs at our existing center and open up a world of exciting teen and sport programs in the new building," said Pascua.

The Lights on After School rally, according to Pascua, was a hit and she said she enjoyed the chance for parents to take a closer look at their child's activates after school.

"Our afterschool event was a wonderful way to spotlight the critical concept that investing in quality programs for our youth today ensures our future leaders will have a great foundation to build from for the continued success of our nation," she said.