COLUMN: Removing financial barriers

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

I spent countless hours of my childhood at a dance studio, taking ballet and jazz classes. Several days a week, I went straight from school to the studio before going home to eat dinner and complete my homework. Those were busy days, but having a creative outlet—and a place to be physically active and socialize with friends—did me more favors than sitting alone in front of a TV. Even now, some of my favorite memories are from afternoons at dance swapping stories and laughs with my friends, some of whom I got to see only at the studio because they went to different schools.

Keeping kids engaged in healthy activities outside of school is paramount in promoting their wellbeing and ensuring they are safe. I want all kids to have the chance to play a sport or dance or create art or play music or dedicate their spare time to whatever inspires them, motivates them and enriches their lives. However, I realize these extracurricular activities often come with a cost, which can create a burden on families in normal times, much less during a global pandemic with vast economic repercussions. Thanks to organizations like the 77 Kids Foundation, some of the financial burden accompanying extracurricular activities can be eliminated.

As a nonprofit organization, the 77 Kids Foundation works to make opportunities for young people more affordable, removing what could be the sole barrier between a child and his or her chance to participate in an activity. Last month, for example, the Foundation donated $850 to Calera High School’s basketball program. 77 Kids Founder Byron De’Vinner said the donation will help to fund items like pregame meals and travel expenses for students during the challenging time of the pandemic.

“A lot of kids might not have the means to do extracurricular activities, so we wanted to do something to help alleviate kids being out in the streets and getting in trouble, so we started looking at avenues of ways we can give back,” De’Vinner said.

The Foundation has also presented donations to Calera Elementary and Thompson High schools recently. In addition, the Foundation eased the strain of back-to-school expenses on parents earlier this year by holding a supply drive at Riverchase Kia and providing all of the school supplies for 10 children in need.

This merely scratches the surface of what the Foundation is doing to assist kids ages 5 through eighth grade. You can find more information at 77kidsfoundation.org or on the 77 Kids Foundation Facebook page.

De’Vinner’s efforts and the efforts of many others in our community might fly under the radar, but they should be applauded, highlighted and supported as much as possible. They are making more opportunities available for children by removing financial barriers that could be the difference in whether they participate. An hour spent on the basketball court or in the dance studio beats an hour of unsupervised, potentially unhealthy activities every time.