Saturday’s letters: Helping kids after school

Published March 2

Afterschool programs

Helping children outside school

As we grapple with yet another senseless loss of young life, the obvious discussion has focused on what went wrong, how it could have been prevented and how to keep kids safe moving forward. Most kids spend over 40 hours a week at school; they deserve to be safe there, and any discussion on how to best do that is imperative. Yet a comprehensive safety and wellbeing plan should also include other spheres in which kids operate, and that includes time spent out of school.

Out-of-school or afterschool programs provide millions of kids safe places to go in lieu of an empty house, where they have exposure to mentors and youth development professionals, social skill building, academic enrichment, leadership development and career exploration.

Programs like Prodigy Cultural Arts not only provide a safe place and social skill building, but also serve as gatekeepers for catching youth who are going off track. In fact, it is often in afterschool programs where many kids feel comfortable enough to divulge personal feelings, struggles going on at home and at school, and other life challenges. Trained professionals who can assess kids for depression, suicide or just needing extra social or emotional support routinely provide children and families crucial wraparound services to address these needs.

Without explanation last year, the Florida Legislature cut the budgets of a host of afterschool programs, and many again this year are awaiting their fate. Thousands of kids no longer receive the social benefits of these programs and one can only guess where they ended up.

The Legislature is primed to take bold steps to keep kids safe after the latest horrific school shooting and should be commended. Taking measures to fully fund and support out-of-school programs as part of an inclusive safety and wellbeing plan would have even a greater impact — and provide a deeper web of support for all kids.

Mike Trepper, director, Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, Tampa

Parkland massacre

Young people take the lead

Here is both a quote and a question for our elected leaders: "Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men." The refrain now includes the heartache of the shattered families and terrorized children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Grief gives them standing to be heard.

An authentic movement has sprung from these events, one that rightly stirs us. The students call on us to overcome legislative inertia to enact sensible firearms regulation. This might even lead to discussion about the firepower of military-pattern weapons. After all, it is the ability to easily sustain such high rates of accurate fire that is chiefly responsible for the scale of the slaughter. Such discussion will be hard. The kids get that. But we teach them that our country rises to meet challenges, so they ask us hard questions. One of those may be: Exactly what part of the horror wrought by Nikolas Cruz should we see as an acceptable cost of providing for a "well regulated militia"?

Our founders were pragmatists. I think they would expect us to restore the equilibrium lost to the advances in weapon design.

Children often lead. Their energy and idealism compel admiration and deserve support. Some may find them a bit naive in their calls for action. Perhaps they are a bit. But these "kids" are also passionate, remarkably on message and very articulate. By contrast, our elected "leaders" seem cynical, ineffective and, frankly, a bit stupid. They were plainly surprised when their usual "sending thoughts and prayers" fell flat in the face of the enormous anguish in Parkland. Now their sincere-listening shtick is earning a richly deserved, "We call BS." Can their usual "stepping back to take the time needed to forge effective legislation" be far behind? I don’t think these kids are going to be fooled by the furrowed brows of legislators thinking deep thoughts. They’ll call it for what it is, more BS.

So, good on you kids. Make the politicians cringe and sweat until they actually listen. When the beating of their hearts echoes the beating of your drums, they may finally take meaningful action.

Tom Lange, Clearwater

Bill could end puppy bans | Feb. 27

Pet stores serve a need

A few years ago, it was time to welcome a new pet into my home. I visited many local animal shelters in the Largo area, optimistic that I’d find our family’s newest member. However, much to our disappointment, we couldn’t adopt a rescue puppy because we didn’t find a breed that we felt would work for our family.

I had been hesitant to visit pet stores because of negative stories regarding puppy mills. I reluctantly made a trip to Petland. Once I stepped inside the store, I quickly realized how wrong I had been about the nature of pet stores. I had a wonderful experience that resulted in the adoption of a new, sweet puppy — the first of four loving, caring pups we’ve gotten there.

Unfortunately, many cities around Florida have introduced new regulations that would ban the sale of dogs and cats from local pet stores. If enforced, families like mine wouldn’t have the opportunity to find a lifelong friend.

Our pets are an extension of our families and one of life’s greatest joys, and pet stores provide a safe and reliable option for Floridians. As much as I fully support shelters, rescue puppies are not the best fit for every family.

That’s why I fully support the idea of local governments making sure pet stores keep animals in proper conditions, but I believe that outright bans are counterproductive and take an important choice away.

We need to contact our legislators and urge them to support local pet stores. If they don’t, it will be pets — and the people who care for them — who suffer.

Jodi Leisure, Largo

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