In her more than 30-year career with the Johnson County Park & Recreation District, Kim Chappelow-Lee of Shawnee has made it her mission to look out for the welfare of Johnson County kids.
Since 1980, she has been working with JCPRD’s after-school program and is now overseeing the program as its children’s services manager.
But Chappelow-Lee is adding a new title to her work with JCPRD: Afterschool Ambassador. The national nonprofit organization Afterschool Alliance has named Chappelow-Lee the Afterschool Ambassador for the 2014-2015 school year.
As part of the group’s efforts to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality after-school programs, she will help build support for programs by organizing public events and communicating with policy makers. She is just one of 13 people nationwide chosen this year and the only representative from Kansas.
“I was just so honored because I feel like this is very important work,” Chappelow-Lee said. “I’ve been on the provider side for the majority of my career and I feel like now is the time to step up and advocate for more after-school care so that everyone that needs after-school care can access it.”
The county district began offering after-school care in 1980 at Brookwood Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District. That year the program started with 20 children. Today, JCPRD provides after-school care to 1,924 students in 29 schools in the De Soto, Gardner-Edgerton and Shawnee Mission districts.
JCPRD’s after-school care program provides parents with child care in the child’s school as needed between the hours of 3:15 to 6 p.m. when the school day ends and parents are still at work. Once the kids check in, they are offered a range of educational and social indoor and outdoor activities as well as a healthy snack.
One of the reasons that Chappelow-Lee was chosen as an Afterschool Ambassador was because of her commitment to keeping healthy eating and exercise at the forefront of JCPRD’s after-school program.
“It’s a lot easier to create the good habit now then to shift it later on,” Chappelow-Lee said.
To that end, all JCPRD after-school programs ensure kids are getting a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day. Sometimes that comes in the form of tag or kickball; other times it means something more elaborate like a running club or Zumba lesson.
And it’s always accompanied with a serving of a healthy snack like fruits or vegetables.
“We try to serve fruits and vegetables in their simplest form and fresh whenever possible,” Chappelow-Lee said.
In addition to promoting physical activity in after-school programs, Chappelow-Lee is looking forward to using her year as an Afterschool Ambassador to advocate for more after-school programs, especially in areas where they are hard to come by. She said the gap in the availability of after-school care can be especially big between higher income and lower income families.
“Kansas has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the nation in providing after-school care,” Chappelow-Lee said. “So many rural communities don’t have these programs available and they really need it.”
During her year-long term, she will be meeting with school board officials and superintendents and talking about the state of after-school programs both in Johnson County and around the country. She will also get a chance to sit down with Kansas legislators this year and point out where the greatest needs are.
“We are a working parent society and after-school programs are a key component of our infrastructure,” Chappelow-Lee said. “Kids need to be supervised in a safe environment. Research shows that kids get involved in risky behaviors when not supervised. It’s just the responsible thing for us to do.”