Camp Fire USA's Lone Star Council works to keep kids out of gangs, off drugs, in school and on the path to success, but a decrease in funding and donations closes several after-school programs.
Eight-year-old George McCallister lives in a low-income apartment complex off loop 12 in Dallas. He used to find refuge, friends, and help with math and reading at an after-school program at his complex called "Kids Club," a program of Camp Fire USA.
"The good thing about our program is that we're right in the heart of where they live,” said Adrienne Armstrong, Camp Fire’s Kids Club director. “They walk home, they get off the bus, they just walk to the community center room or usually we'll have an apartment that the leasing office gives us, so we're right where they live."
The Kids Club was free and fun, but in late October, the program at George's complex had to close because there was no more money for it.
"All nonprofit agencies are struggling these days,” said Rita De Young, chief executive officer of the Camp Fire USA Lone Star Council, which serves Dallas, Collin and southern Denton counties.
“Donations are down, foundation support, corporate support is down as a result of the economy,” said De Young.
Camp Fire USA, formerly known as the Camp Fire Girls, turns 100 years old in 2010. The Lone Star Council has been part of North Texas since 1913.
It now provides free programming to 2,000 low-income children, youth and families. But this year, Kid Clubs in West Dallas, North Dallas and Oak Cliff were closed.
In all, six after-school programs were shuttered, including five at Dallas Housing Authority sites. Camp Fire said it is a major blow, because according to experts, the hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are peak hours for juvenile crime and when kids are most likely to experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex.
"It means that the kids in those high-crime neighborhoods have very few options available to them,” De Young said. “Most of the neighborhoods we're in are drug-infested, high crime, (and) there are gangs. Kids really don't have very many opportunities to play like the suburban kids do."
Armstrong said after-school programs are intended to keep at-risk kids off the streets and away from potential trouble and give a boost to students who lag behind academically.
"I know that there are tons of kids right now that have nothing to do after school,” Armstrong said. “And that 's scary, very scary.”
Joshua Walton, a high school senior who lived in the same complex as George, said Camp Fire was an important stepping-stone in his life. He is now on his way to college.
"A lot of things that are around here are drug-dealing, people doing drugs. Camp Fire gives you a way to escape that," Walton said. "When I heard it was being closed, I was really hurt, because it helped me a lot."
For more information on how to donate or volunteer, call 214-824-1122 or visit campfireusadallas.org.