417-682-6002 jerod@aokyouth.org

LAMAR-A grassroots organization serving the needs of school age children and operating separate but parallel with local school districts is facing a severe financial crisis. About Our Kids, Inc. (AOK) has largely been supported by federal, state, and local grants since its founding in 1999. A three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education is expiring at the end of 2013, and concerned citizens are searching for ways of raising sufficient funds to stay in operation.

AOK operates two centers for youth development, the Wolf Center at 801 East 12th for children in grades K-5, and Nathan’s Place at 1005 Gulf on the northwest corner of the Lamar square for grades 6-12. At the Wolf Center, children are provided a healthy meal Monday through Friday free of charge and are offered physical education and recreation opportunities along with character education and development. Nathan’s Place provides a safe hangout after school with a free and nutritious meal at 5 p.m.  It’s open week days from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and all day whenever school is out due to weather and during the summer months. Free of charge services include tutoring, supervised wireless internet access, an indoor basketball court, and laundry and shower facilities.

Together, AOK serves over 300 meals every week. Menus comply with USDA dietary guidelines.

All AOK activities are supervised by professional and certified staff members. The staff consists of eight employees, two full time and six part time.

Beyond Lamar, AOK has provided physical fitness equipment and classes in nutrition to the school districts of Sheldon R-VIII, Jasper R-V, and the Southeast Kansas Learning Center. It also administered a one-year College Access Challenge grant in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Higher Education to provide funds to increase a college-going culture in rural Barton County.

A group of eight people met, November 4, to examine the financial needs of AOK which lie ahead. They estimated that somewhat more than $100,000 will be needed to continue operating through 2014. The group discussed ways of educating the public about the program and the financial shortfall it faces. A marketing campaign is being planned. They were in unanimous agreement that AOK is a needed and worthwhile program for the Barton County community, as exemplified by its motto, “Empowering young people to make healthy life choices.”