Possible cuts can't keep Youth Agency down

The New Milford Youth Agency is experiencing something of a seesaw ride.

Plans are moving ahead full speed for an autumn after-school program for sixth and seventh graders.

On the down side, job openings for summer work programs are potentially at risk.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget proposal for 2015-16 could include cuts of $1.2 million from the state's Youth Service Bureau, which would mean a 40 percent cut in the grant received by New Milford to hire students for summer work projects.

Last year, 24 students were hired for jobs ranging from haying at town-owned Sullivan Farm to growing a potato crop on Ridge Road farmland.

If the budget cut becomes reality, just 12 students will be hired this summer.

"I have great faith that, in the last seconds, something will happen to fully fund the summer work program," said Mark Mankin, the Youth Agency's longtime executive director. "This has happened before with looming state budget cuts only to be resolved in the 11th hour."

Mankin said the haying operation and Ridge Road potato farming would continue, cuts or no cuts, since they are money-making programs for the agency.

However, some programs may have to be trimmed.

The agency cares for a graveyard in the town and hosts a summer camp of activities, as well as doing trail maintenance on town-owned properties.

"The Youth Agency will continue to have a presence at Sullivan Farm," said Mayor Pat Murphy.

With the reconfiguration of grades in New Milford schools, the sixth-graders will move this fall to Schaghticoke Middle School.

Several parents requested an after-school program for the students and Mankin has developed one that will also include seventh-graders.

"It will be a series of afternoon activities, some at the school, some off grounds," Mankin explained. "They'll be adventure based -- community service, agricultural education, culinary training."

The programs will run Mondays to Fridays until 6:30 p.m. Transportation to off-site activities will be provided by the Youth Agency buses. Students can sign up for days when projects interest them.

"We ran an enrichment program a few years ago twice a year and had about 500 kids take part," Mankin said. "We'll use that as our template for offering interesting activities all through the school year."

Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote, the superintendent of schools, called the program "very innovative" in the way it's designed with an emphasis on adventure.

"This came about through a combination of Mark and I putting our heads together and parents asking if the Latchkey program now in place at Sarah Noble (Intermediate School) would continue when sixth grade moved to Schaghticoke," Paddyfote said.

The after-school program will be self-sustaining. Parents will pay a fee for student participation.

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352