FARMINGTON — An after-school program begun four weeks ago at elementary schools in Farmington and Wilton is providing 150 children with academic and physical fitness opportunities.

FRANKLIN, which stands for Friends Reducing Abuse and Neglect of Kids Living in our Neighborhoods, is funded by a $1.5 million 21st Century grant received in May. The money supports the after-school and summer programs for Regional School Unit 9 pupils in kindergarten through grade 5 over five years.  

Ninety pupils are enrolled at the Mallett School and another 60 at Academy Hill School in Wilton, Renee Whitley, executive director of the Franklin County Children’s Task Force, told the FRANKLIN Advisory Group this week.

The grant is the result of a partnership between Regional School Unit 9 and the Franklin County Children’s Task Force.

The program provides breakfast, lunch and a snack, Whitley said. Time is also spent on schoolwork, exercise and enrichment activities. Pupils take a shuttle bus home or are picked up by parents by 5:30 p.m.

Of the pupils attending, 120 need additional support in literature, math and science, Whitley said.

Tom Desjardins of Starks is program coordinator. Other staff include teachers, education technicians, literature and math specialists and University of Maine at Farmington students.

Desjardins said they are also seeking community members to share their interests with pupils.  

“I need all of you to value children with your time and talents,” he said.

Perhaps a grandparent crochets or someone can share their interest in photography, Whitley said. It’s not just about teaching them something but mentoring as well.

“Kids need to feel valued by all of us — not just by UMF students or moms — but by all of us,” she said. “It is the only way to change the generational parenting we have always done.”

The program provides a safe place for children, Stacie Bourassa, community outreach coordinator for the Task Force, said.

Franklin County has high rates of child abuse and neglect due, in part, to a lack of affordable child care. The Franklin County Children’s Task Force and similar organizations in Androscoggin and Somerset counties were tasked by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to reduce the numbers.

“We found we are a county that is resource rich but disconnected,” Bourassa said. Isolation felt by parents is a big factor in abuse and neglect of newborns and children 3 years of age and younger, she said.  

Programs such as a nursing mothers’ group and childbirth classes have been very good, Bourassa said.

Working with Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services and Safe Voices, a school-based sex abuse prevention program called the Healthy Relationships Project is being offered free to pupils in prekindergarten through eighth grade in Franklin County, she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the after-school program may contact the Franklin County Children’s Task Force at 207-778-6960.

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