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NEOGA -- The Mattoon Area Family YMCA launched an after-school program for students at Neoga Elementary School on Monday.

Youth Development Director Kayla Kerner said the Mattoon Y has been expanding its services into Cumberland County in preparation for the upcoming opening of its Neal Center YMCA branch in Toledo. She noted that they started before- and after-school programs at Cumberland Elementary School last September as part of this expansion.

Kerner said the programs at the Neoga and Cumberland schools offer science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities, as well as character lessons, homework help, crafts, games, and snacks. She said participating children are able to have fun and get their energy out while also learning.

"We try to keep the program structured and introduce them to lessons that they can apply to their education," Kerner said. She added that, "We want to give children a fun, safe place where parents know they are being taken care of and given something productive to do."

Neoga Elementary Principal Denise Helmers said she had a great experience working with a YMCA after-school program in the Plano school district, so she was excited when the Mattoon Y offered to start a program in Neoga. She said YMCA staff are well trained, responsible, and genuinely care about children.

Helmers said a local church had provided an after-school program in recent years for Neoga Elementary students off campus, but was not able to do this during the 2018-19 school year. She said the YMCA has been able to meet this programming need by working with children at their school.

"The children can stay right here in a setting they are familiar with," Helmers said. Neoga's after-school program is open until 5:30 p.m. each day.

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Neoga school district resident Jennifer Finney said the new program is a big help for her and other parents who are still at work when their children get out of school. Finney said she appreciates that the YMCA offers the program at Neoga Elementary and that the staff checks the identification of those picking up the children.

Finney said her children, 8-year-old Austin and 6-year-old Avery, love taking part in the after-school program.

"They are always wanting to stay longer and play games, and they have been getting their homework done before I pick them up, which is a big plus," Finney said.

Cumberland Elementary Principal Daniel Huffman said his school had a need for programming on campus before and after school, so they took the YMCA up on its offer to start providing these services last fall. Cumberland's before-school program opens at 6:30 a.m. and the after-school program ends by 5:30 p.m each day.

Huffman said the programs free up parents from having to find babysitters if they need to go to work before the school day starts or stay at work after the school day ends.

Enrollments are still being taken for the Cumberland and Neoga programs. Enrollment forms are available at the school offices, the Mattoon YMCA, and https://mattoonymca.org/. Financial assistance is available for families with low incomes.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @RobStroud

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