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Perryville commissioner questions outreach program's new summer project

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

4:08 PM EDT, August 8, 2012

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Perryville Commissioner Michael Dawson is concerned about why a juvenile outreach program is expanding when attendance is down, and why 10- to 12-year-old kids are interacting with much older teens.

The outreach program, which is for at-risk teenagers, offers various classes, such as life skills. It recently began a summer pilot program directed toward younger kids in Perryville.

Under the impression attendance is down, Dawson asked the program's director, Michelle Lewis, at Tuesday's town hall meeting why the outreach program is expanding. He also said he has a problem with 10 to 12-year-olds interacting with the older teenagers.

Lewis, as well as Commissioner Michelle Linkey, clarified that program attendance has actually increased and what has decreased is police department referrals for kids 13 to 21 years of age.

The older kids, she continued, haven't been coming in as much and no one in the 21-year-old age range is in the program at the moment, but the program helps them with writing resumes and going back to school to earn their GED.

As for the younger children, "of course we've been watching because it's a pilot program and we want to see how it works out," Lewis said.

She added that not all kids who attend the program are at-risk, but there are some younger children who participate because their older siblings attend. The youngest child in the program is 9.

Dawson asked what the state law was for babysitting and at what age a child can by left alone without supervision.

Kids 13 years old and older can babysit, a police officer in attendance responded, and can be left alone except overnight at 8.

"What is your program doing that is different from the Boys and Girls Club that's doing it for free?" Dawson asked, referring to the program's $156,000 annual budget. He also asked why the club left town.

"It's not free and I'm not sure what community service they're doing," Lewis said. She had worked for the Boys and Girls Club before the Town of Perryville location closed in 2007.

Commissioner Barbara Brown and Mayor Jim Eberhardt agreed with Lewis and said the Boys and Girls Club programming was not free.

Lewis said she believed the club was closed because of "a financial issue" and Perryville's location was not the only one to close. Before she left for the outreach program, she continued, she was told she would be transferred to another club.

Brown, who works with the local YMCA on its board, said the Y summer program has a waiting list of at least 12 people and the outreach program would most likely get more kids "because they want to be part of something."

She added that she hopes the pilot program works out "because we need things for kids to do. It keeps them out of trouble."

Budget amendments

A budget amendment recognizing money reserved in the last fiscal year for first responders and the reallocation of money to purchase a grinder pump was approved by the commissioners and mayor.

Set aside in the fiscal year 2012 budget, $35,000 from local impact grants will be given to EMTs at the Community Fire Company of Perryville.

The donation was briefly brought up during the July work session meeting when representatives of the fire company requested $105,000 to go toward their career services program.

Money that was also spent on an emergency replacement of a grinder pump at the water treatment plant - $5,000 - will be reallocated from repairs to the capital outlay budget.

Community legacy grant application

The town will apply for a $50,000 grant through the Department of Housing and Community Development's Community Legacy Grant Program to start a façade improvement program.

The program, which will benefit residents and businesses who want to spruce up their buildings, will complement the town's downtown revitalization program.