Freedom Schools looking for help

Imagine an afterschool program that provides help with homework, nurtures a strong family-like safe environment, staffed by educators who are specialize in the reduction of risky behavior, engage in service projects with plenty of room for fun and recreation. Sounds great, right? There is even an official program out of the Illinois Department of Human Services that you can read about:

All that got erased on April 3rd. Freedom School administrators received a curt email saying that no more bills would be accepted through the Teen REACH program. The $109,000 yearly grant that drove a bulk of the program was abruptly and unexpectedly cut off in a moment.

At the April 13th regular board meeting, Unit 4 heard from many personal accounts of how Freedom Schools, Teen REACH and “Sankofa” had positively impacted their lives. They heard from a mother/grandmother, children, students, volunteers and staff. You can watch it all for yourself within the first 18 minutes of the board meeting video:

I was moved after I watched it, so I immediately contacted the Unit 4 board and administration to learn more. I learned that Gov. Rauner’s proposed 2016 budget totally slashed a large number of social programs, including Teen REACH. What totally puzzles me is why funding was so rudely halted even though the budget has not even been approved by the Senate and the House?!? Where is that money going now?

After a few exchanges with board members, I was put into contact with Ms. Sara Sanders (principal at Franklin) and Ms. Regina Parnell (from the Regional Office of Education); both gave witness at the board meeting, and both have been very invovled in Freedom Schools. Ms. Parnell graciously agreed to meet with me, and even show me around one of the “Freedom Schools”.

To put things in perspective, the program is limping by with a $24,000 grant from United Way (props to United Way!) and pulling some strings. Ms. Parnell point out one staff person who started off volunteering, then officially joined the program, and after learning that funding had vaporized, continued to come back purely as a volunteer. Why? Because the staff truly love the kids, and the kids love the staff. There is no other way to put it. In their own words, they are family. And that is what I really love about this program.

The kidos start out with homework time in a portion of the cafeteria, in a partition right next to Kids Plus. When I was there, I saw about 30 kids of all different elementary grades; I also learned that while most were from Stratton, some come from Dr. Howard as well. The staff have a high standard for behavior, from walking (not running), to how others are treated with respect (even between brothers – now that was a tall order! *grin*). After homework time, where peer tutoring is encouraged, the children are allowed to pursue another project. The day I was there, they filed off to the gym for some recreation.

The whole time I was able to ask questions and learn so much more about this effort (most of the answers are embedded above). Ms. Parnell strikes me as an amazing person who truly has a heart to see these families (not just the students) grow stronger. At one point one of the stories she shared so much reminded me of Lisa Delpit’s “Other People’s Children”, and the critical need to get to know the child and family – else how can you truly guide and help someone?

I also learned that “sankofa” is an Akan word from Ghana meaning (loosely) “to reach back”; the way it is used in Freedom Schools is that the program not only strives to positively impact the students, but to also reach back to the parents (and even grandparents) and positively impact them as well.

When we worked out the numbers, Ms. Parnell came up with $100/month per child. I can do $100/month for this awesome program. Can I find 90 other kind souls?

[[ comment about Tap-In being revised ]]

And lastly, I have not heard from any legislators or those in contact with the governor about reviving the Teen REACH grant. I am really pissed that the funds were cut off even though there is no good reason for it, yet.

I ask for 90 people to help Freedom Schools. Who is willing and able to help?

16 Responses to “Freedom Schools looking for help”

  1. pattsi Says:

    First, no one knows what has been cut or included in the 2016 budget because work is just starting on that budget. Second, this is not the only social program cut at the end of the 2015 budget. Many, many such programs we closed down by the governor’s decision and the fact the the house did not read the fine print of the bill cutting 2.5% off of programs across the board. The fine print in the bill stated that the governor could adjust accordingly. Neither Ammons or Bennett voted for the bill.
    This leads to the next question, you are lobbying for this program. What about all of the other worthwhile programs that we cut. Are you going to lobby for them or just the squeaky wheel. Where is the equity? Why are you not contacting the governor with these questions, why did you totally eliminate so many social programs instead of offering cut back for the remainder of the budget year; do you thoroughly understand what these programs do; have you visited any of these programs or talked with those involved; have you looked at an evaluation of the programs; and why would you function in this manner as a business man when you know how much it will cost above and beyond to reinstate the programs when funding surfacing during the 2016 budget discusses–just to start with? Are you asking these questions of the representatives who voted for the bill?
    Why are you looking for money to support the program? Why not volunteers? If the governor learns that the program continued via volunteer funding support, you have undermined any future funding.
    The fight for the program needs a coalition, not just one voice. Has anyone visited the representatives offices?
    And now that I have more information as to how out of line the price/acre for the 80 acres, one might be prompted to wonder out load whether some of the money spent on the land could have supported this program?

    • charlesdschultz Says:


      According to Google, there are 7 billion people on the planet. I am not aware of any ONE of those 7 billion people that have advocated for all 62 of the worthwhile programs that got zeroed out. Please, show me just one person. One, out of 7 billion. Maybe they are not all worthwhile…. ah, I’ll leave that can of worms for another day.

      I will call the governor’s office today; however, given my past experience talking to legislators, I have absolutely no confidence that any legislator outside Champaign cares what I think (both Chapin and Frerichs have returned calls in the past, but no other senator or representative has).

      Freedom Schools is indeed looking for volunteers – I think the door is totally open to that. In fact, I asked about volunteers and if they could be a practical help, and the answer is “yes!”, even if just to help answer questions for an hour or two.

      I think future funding is totally up in the air; as we all know, the proposed budget is just that, a proposed budget. But the fact of the matter is that someone decided to pull the plug RIGHT NOW even though the budget has not been passed. Someone already undermined these programs that were preemptively zeroed out. Are you suggesting that we should wait upon the generous and benevolent hand of the government to make it right, RIGHT NOW? *laugh*

      I understand there is a larger picture at play here. The leadership of Illinois has done a craptastic job of ensuring our fiscal future, thus we are paying the price of past mistakes and VERY bad decisiosn. I get it that something has to be cut. I get it that in some sense, for the short term it is a lose-lose scenario. It is my observation that not one person is attempting to educate the masses and paint that big picture. Yes, I will take up your questions seriously and start asking my representatives, but I am but one person. And I know that from my weekend reading that many others have already started to form groups and speak loudly against these presposterous changes (many google hits on rauner’s budget).

      My goal is provide an outlet so that community folks can make a positive difference in the lives of those who live right here, to put shoes on the pavement and act out the village that raises a child. To me, calling the governor’s office is just hot air. Furthermore, I am slowly thinking that we need less dependence on federal and state dollars, not more. From what I can tell, our schools are suffering because of unfunded mandates. If the state ponied up their share of the educational funding, that would be one thing, but they are not. It’s hard to argue with the numbers.

  2. kshannon617 Says:

    I’m in. I know I could bankrupt myself trying to replace state funding for social programs, so I don’t think it’s a long-term solution. But I can’t stand on principle after seeing the testimony at that meeting. I do think that people should be *hammering* their representatives on this. (I’m outside of Ammons’ district, so my rep needs some hammering.) And I want the governor to know how much this is hurting us. But I believe those kids need us.

    • charlesdschultz Says:


      Just a quick thought, I know United Way is 501c3 so perhaps they would be willing to take contributions and add to the grant they have already given to Freedom Schools. Maybe.

      • charlesdschultz Says:

        Just another update: Unit 4 is sponsoring the remainder of the school year for Freedom Schools at Franklin. So I am going to make a leap of faith here and say that you could potentially donate to Unit 4 (which already is 501c3) and designate “Freedom Schools” as the recipient.

        In terms of donating, I see from Tap In’s webpage that they have a “donate” button, and Tap In appears to be 501c3 already.

      • Kathy R. Says:

        Charles, great news about Unit 4 stepping in to fund the rest of the year. Money well spent.

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    Another thing, whatever we are doing now at a societal level sure as hell ain’t working:

    I realize I am no expert, but from what I have learned, programs that use restorative justice as a template, or programs that seek a building of trust and mutual relationship buidling, are one of the best and surest ways to prevent and deter such violence. I could be wrong. All I can say is that the violence as demonstrated in this article is a sure sign that an evil poison is eating away at our community from the inside. If that is not a high priority red flag, I don’t know what is.

  4. Sally K. Carter Says:

    Charles, as the Executive Director of a grassroots organization that serves hundreds of children and families within the Champaign community, I understand all too well the devastating effects of budget cuts. I really am sorry that Freedom Schools has suffered such a great loss, but let me make this very clear–no one from your organization, you included, has reached out to Tap In Leadership Academy. I have known Regina for years, and we have even worked together in the past. Tap In is always open to collaborating with other community organizations with aligned missions and visions of serving the youth and families of our community. Tap In has several sites throughout the Champaign Unit 4 School District, many of which have waiting lists. We are here to serve. If you have any questions at all, regarding Tap In, please do call me at (217) 819-5770.

    For the children,
    Sally K. Carter, Executive Director and Founder of Tap In Leadership Academy

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Ms. Carter, thank you for taking the time to chat on the phone and raising my awareness about Tap-In. I only had part of the story, and I apologize for any misrepresentation I conveyed about your fine program. I will be writing a new blog post later.

  5. pattsi Says:

    Charles, my point of asking if one is only going to lobby for the favorite program or go after equity for all of the programs deleted, making the arguments that I posted. Great so one argues to save “X” creating the situation to do so that all of whatever free monies exists get drawn to that program and then none of the others have any chance. Today I attended a conference for county board chairs. One of the topics had to do with cutting these programs and how much more money it will cost to reinstate them in the future because the support structures will have moved on. The governor also basically stole dedicated monies that all of us pay via our power bill to fund energy efficiency programs through SEDAC. Those employees all got their notices about a month ago. This is dedicated funding, but the governor does not care. So taking your approach of no effort to let the governor and our regional representatives know how a citizen feels apriori gives the governor a big win and nothing being done to protect dedicated funds or the many social programs.

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      Last week I contacted both the governor’s office and my representative, Rodney Davis. Neither have called me back. Through Mr. Davis’s office (seperate call), I was put in contact with a Bobby Fredricks out at the DC office, who deals mostly with the federal budget. He called me back in three hours.

      Calling my Illinois elected officials was not a very satisfying experience at all, but at least I left the message that I was concerned.

  6. pattsi Says:

    Great article analyzing the issues with the proposed and actual state budget. Just a reminder besides stealing from the dedicated fund, medicaid has been hit. Think CCNH and the 100 residents who as occupants are funded by medicaid.

  7. charlesdschultz Says:

    Just an update: Freedom Schools and many other social programs were recently notified they could receive the rest of their funding for the current year, as covered by the NG:

    It still bothers me that someone could just wave a magic wand to make that money disappear, and then wave it again and make it re-appear. That just isn’t right.

    I am meeting with Regina Parnell and administrators with the CU Schools Foundation to work out some sort of local donation system.

  8. Helping our children | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] (which had an amazing summer with field trips and impactful lessons), Freedom Schools (which I wrote about earlier), Tech-Time at Kenwood, the after-school homework programs at Garden Hills and Stratton, and the […]

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