After School program celebrates 20 years

When the City of Farmington Hills After School program launched 20 years ago this month, organizers felt success would look like 50 or 60 kids a day.

Jordan McCray
Jordan McCray, 11, gives the City of Farmington Hills After School program a big thumbs up.

“Probably by late April or May, we knew he had a hit,” Youth and Family Services Director Todd Lipa, who launched the program in 1996. “We had about 200 kids at the Costick Center. Each time we added a center, the numbers grew.”

Today, the Costick Center, Farmington Hills Ice Arena, Jon Grant Community Center, Warner Upper Elementary, and Farmington YMCA host around 650 middle school students who enjoy sports, board and computer games, arts and crafts, outdoor activities, and help with homework. Last Friday, a half-day for Farmington Public Schools students, kids enjoyed pizza and cake, a dance on ice and other activities, to celebrate the 20th anniversary.

Jordan McCray, 11, who attends Power Upper Elementary School, took time away from the celebration to talk about what the After School program means to him. He started attending last fall, and said it’s “a lot of fun.” While he enjoys the activities, he said, “the best part is hanging with my friends while playing video games.”

Lipa said while he oversees the program, the staff – some with him more than 15 years – really keep it going. Supervisors don’t just monitor kids for a few hours in the afternoon, they also help them sort out problems, reach out to parents, and make sure kids have whatever they need.

The city’s Commission on Children, Youth and Families launched the After School program with a $385,000 federal grant, plus funds raised through what is today the Farmington/Farmington Hills Foundation for Youth and Families. Lipa said a community survey had identified a lack of programming for middle school-aged children.

“When we did the survey in the early ’90s, we had a lot of folks starting to become single parents, moms and dads, and two-parent families where both parents were working,” he said. “Those were the beginning days of the community becoming more diversified, and people from all over were moving here.”

As the community became more diverse, he said, so did the program, creating opportunities for kids to learn about different cultures. “We learned a lot of life lessons and world lessons.”

The biggest difference between kids 20 years ago and kids today, Lipa said, lies in their level of physical activity. These days, they spend more time in front of computer and video game screens.

“We had a lot of movement back then, because there wasn’t technology. It’s made kids connect more, but we’re constantly fighting the battle of getting kids more active,” he said.