Increasing children’s access to healthy foods and time for physical activity promotes lifelong health. And out-of-school time programs – which include before-school care, after-school care, weekend programs, and summer day and resident camps – can play an integral role in developing these healthy habits. In South Carolina, a coalition comprised of both local and national partners is working together to improve upon these initiatives.
In November 2017, the South Carolina Alliance of YMCAs received a grant from Voices for Healthy Kids to lead a statewide initiative to pursue policy changes that require out-of-school time programs to integrate national standards for healthy eating and physical activity (HEPA).
The HEPA standards serve as a guide to increase kids’ access to healthy foods and time for physical activity while in out-of-school time programs. But for many out-of-school time program providers, it may be difficult to know how to implement these standards, or they lack the adequate resources to do so. That’s why the South Carolina Alliance of YMCAs partnered with the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance (SCAA) to create a coalition that would advocate for S.C. House Bill 4285 – legislation that would appropriate funds to support the implementation of a statewide healthy out-of-school time program.
The bill was introduced but appeared to stall in committee. However, the coalition kept the momentum going with help from a key legislative ally, S.C. State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. Through a separate appropriations bill, she successfully secured nearly $160,000 to launch pilot out-of-school time programs across the state. The data compiled from these programs will inform the coalition’s efforts to introduce a new bill and encourage legislators to push the bill through in 2019. As they gear up for the next legislative session, campaign leaders have focused on looking at out-of-school-time programs from a more comprehensive perspective.
“We’ve expanded beyond the HEPA standards to really look at quality overall, which includes safety as well as academic enrichment,” said Meg Stanley, Campaign Coordinator for the coalition.
In a coalition comprised of both local and national partners, it’s important to recognize the value of different organizational perspectives and capabilities.
“No entity can do something like this alone. The power is in the collective,” said Amy Splittgerber, Executive Director of the South Carolina Alliance of YMCAs. While national organizations provided a lot of the resources, she said pulling in a statewide entity like the SCAA has been critical to the campaign.
The SCAA is comprised of more than 1,400 out-of-school time programs across the state. It was able to engage directly with out-of-school time providers, so their opinions and feedback could be incorporated into the campaign objectives.
“Being able to bring those partners to the table…and look at how we can support, build capacity and have a great impact on over 100,000 kids is just beyond words,” said Zelda Waymer, Executive Director of the SCAA.
The SCAA was integral in keeping the local providers educated on the campaign and informed about how the changes would impact them and the children and youth they serve. Giving them “a voice and a buy-in in the process” was critical to Waymer and the other coalition leaders.
The collaboration with the YMCA played an important role in the campaign as well. As a nationally recognized leader in youth development, the YMCA proved to be a key member of the coalition.
“The ‘Y’ is one of the leading providers in afterschool and childcare programs in the nation. So, when you think about the reach and impact that the YMCA can have, if we are to implement these national standards, it’s huge,” said Splittgerber.
The coalition leaders also emphasized the value AHA added, creating an ability to tap into larger networks. By providing the coalition with new connections and resources, AHA expanded its own advocacy efforts.
“With any advocacy campaign, it takes a lot of manpower,” said Splittgerber. “That collaboration between AHA through Voices for Healthy Kids and the partnerships they create at the state-level to get this work done, to have those dedicated resources, it’s just been invaluable.”