Jane Hange understands the importance of providing strong after-school programs for youth throughout West Virginia, especially to kids in middle and high schools.

Youths in these age groups are vulnerable to risky behaviors, and there are too few high-quality supervised after-school programs for them,said Hange, who directs the West Virginia Statewide Afterschool Network (WVSAN), a partnership between the West Virginia University Extension Service and several state agencies and organizations.

The development of new after-school and summer programs for middle and high school students will now be possible, thanks to a $321,000 grant recently awarded by The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation .

The grant will allow WVSAN to provide minigrants to existing after-school programs to create or expand program services to serve middle and high school students,Hange said.

WVSAN is one of 38 similar networks throughout the nation designed to create and sustain a statewide partnership to raise awareness of the importance of and increase access to qualityout-of-school timeprograms. Other goals of the statewide after-school networks are to share criteria of effective programs and best practices among providers and the public and to promote sustainability of such programs throughout the state.

The new minigrant program is called ExplorationsMiddle and High School Afterschool Program Development Grants. Explorations minigrants will be awarded to introduce new and/or expand after-school programs, and they will work to strengthen collaborative efforts in communities struggling with problems associated with middle and high school youths.

Were targeting these minigrants to help reduce dropout rates, improve academic achievement and encourage kids to attend college,Hange said.Funded programs will strive to keep kids enrolled in school and do what is necessary to help them aspire and prepare to go to college or other postsecondary education.

Eligible applicants will include after-school programs based in schools and churches and community-based organizations that served children for 25 or more weeks during the 2007-08 school year. The request for proposals for the Explorations program should be available in November.

Following a competitive proposal review process, it is anticipated that as many as 30 currently operating, out-of-school time programs will receive up to $10,000 each to add or expand programming for at least 20 middle and high school students. Minigrant recipients will be able to begin offering additional programming in February 2009.

Federal and local funding for after-school programs has dwindled over the years, making private funding from sources like the Benedum Foundation extremely important,Hange said.With reduced funding from government programs, additional sources are critical in keeping the lights on for after-school programming. We appreciate the Benedum Foundations focus on increasing access to strong after-school programs in West Virginia.

The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is an independent foundation established in 1944 by Michael and Sarah Benedum, natives respectively of Bridgeport and Blacksville. They named the foundation in memory of their only child, who died in 1918 at age 20. The Benedums expressed the wish that grantmaking be focused in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania, their native and adopted homes.

The foundations assets at year-end 2006 totaled over $425 million. Since its inception, the foundation has authorized grants totaling more than $316 million. Grants are made in the areas of education, health and human services, community development and economic development. Grants are made to advance specific initiatives in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as promotion of philanthropy in those regions.

WVSAN began in October 2006 with funding through a three-year C.S. Mott Foundation grant and matching grants from the West Virginia departments of Education , Education and the Arts , and Health and Human Resources ; the WVU Extension Service; and the West Virginia State University Extension Service that totaled $408,000.

The grant was made through the WVU Foundation , a private nonprofit corporation that generates and provides support for WVU .