May 2022

Greater Columbus plans major increase in summer youth programs

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Bill Bush
May 20, 2022

Columbus city leaders Thursday announced that the city would put $16.2 million — mostly from federal COVID-19 relief funds — toward youth programs this summer, which officials said was 2.5 times last year’s amount.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure this is a seamless handoff from the Columbus City Schools to the hot summer,” said Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin during an announcement in Franklinton.

“This is a historic investment in our young people, in our community, to keep us safe. What we know is that it worked last year. We know that when we got those dollars on the streets, we connected with those 30,000 young people, it decreased violence out there.”

Of the total dollars, $14.4 million comes from the American Rescue Plan, while another $1.8 million comes from the city’s general fund. City Council will take up approving the expenditures beginning next week.

Separately, Franklin County is investing another $6.1 million to support activities for youth this summer, “from free day camps for elementary and middle school students to paid work experiences, and college and career readiness programs for high school students and young adults,” officials said in a written statement.

In general, families must meet Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) income guidelines to qualify for county programming, said Bart Logan, spokesman for Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services.

That means making no more than 200% of federal poverty guidelines, which in Columbus amounts to $2,265 per month for a single person to $4,625 per month for a family of four. Those making above those guidelines, however, may be eligible for programs through other funds the county has set aside and are encouraged to still apply, Logan said.

Additionally, Columbus City Schools will host its “Summer Experience,” a free, immersive learning program for students in pre-K through grade 12 to accelerate their education or engage in course recovery.

“I would argue that our young people were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said Thursday, but by combining federal stimulus dollars with city funding and other community resources, the city hopes to expand the range of programming available.

Hardin noted that he worked as a youth intern for former Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman and as a summer worker at Zoombezi Bay, the 22.7-acre water park owned by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Hardin said both jobs helped him “earn and learn when I was a teenager.”

A more detailed breakdown released by Ginther’s office showed the largest expenditure, $3 million, was for “city investments” made through two city departments, Public Health and Recreation and Parks. These dollars will support additional staff for ReRoute Columbus, run by the Columbus CARES Coalition, an anti-violent-crime initiative that provides services such as micro-interventions to stop violence and grief counseling for victims, the mayor’s office said.

Another $1.7 million was earmarked for “Linden, Hilltop & Eastland,” through the Recreation and Parks and Neighborhoods departments, to support neighborhood beautification efforts and summer employment opportunities.

I Know I Can and United Way would together receive $2 million for “education” programs. I Know I Can is a nonprofit that helps Columbus students prepare for and navigate entry into college, while United Way generally has raised funds for community causes.

Another $1.6 million of the federal dollars is earmarked for “empowerment grants” for various neighborhoods, and $750,000 is for “business district safety enhance.” Another $440,000 would go to Reach Communications, a marketing and messaging-strategy firm, but it was unclear for what services.

The breakdown shows $700,000 for Recreation and Parks Department staff and “network of nonprofits,” and $300,000 more would go to Color Coded Labs, a private startup computer coding school on the Near East Side that focuses on preparing Black workers for technology careers.

The City Council recently approved $400,000 for Color Coded Labs, but documentation showing exactly what taxpayers will get back hasn’t yet been provided by the city Development Department.

Other programs getting grants include: Columbus Urban League/Community for New Direction ($1.7 million); Festival Latino/CAPA ($60,000); African American Male Wellness ($250,000); Always With Us Charities ($150,000); Image Character Etiquette Inc. ($75,000); The Past Foundation ($150,000); 934 Gallery ($26,576); Columbus College of Art & Design ($51,700); brand strategy firm Warhol & WALL ST. ($300,000); design agency GETCR8V and Next is Now ($300,000); Legacy Youth Academy ($227,000); Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio ($150,000); Columbus Fashion Alliance ($350,000); Highland Youth Garden ($25,000); Urban Scouts ($350,000); J. Jireh Development Corporation ($61,500); Legacy Youth Sports ($200,000); and Children’s Hunger Alliance ($40,000).