TACOMA – In Washington State, 31 percent of youth in grades Kindergarten through 12th grade take care of themselves after the school day ends.  After-school programs keep kids safe, help working families and inspire learning. On Oct. 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the Portland Avenue Resource Center will celebrate the opening of the new 4-H Technology Lab.  This celebration is just one of more than 7,500 nationwide events celebrating “Lights on Afterschool.” 
Rep. Norm Dicks, Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell understand the importance of afterschool programs.  They co-sponsored a grant for WSU 4-H to open a new Technology Lab in east Tacoma for summer and after-school programming.  The lab is located on 3513 E. Portland Ave., Tacoma, Wash.
Opening its doors for the first time this summer, youth at the lab created animated characters, explored wind power and rocketry, took photos and made PowerPoint presentations.  After-school activities began last week with students from nearby schools including First Creek Middle School, Blix Elementary School and Lister Elementary School.
“When youth are given the freedom to explore their own ideas in a safe, caring environment the possibilities are limitless,” WSU educator Jennifer Johnson said.  “It’s amazing to watch the transformation.  Youth create their own community and take pride and ownership in their work.”                                                                                                    
 
Johnson coordinates and teaches the summer and after-school programs.
The goal of the grant is to create opportunities for youth to learn more about technology and practice life skills such as communication and teamwork.  Fifteen students were asked how they thought they used certain life skills before and after the summer program.  All of them showed an increase in their abilities to use decision making, leadership and communication skills.
On Thursday, Oct. 22, the lab is open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for exploration.
Free after-school programming is available for fifth grade to 12th grade.  Fourth and fifth grades are on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.  Ninth to 12th grades are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m..  Sixth to eighth grades are on Tuesday and Thursdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Activities include digital photography and storytelling, film making and animation.  Contact Jennifer Johnson at (253) 798-7160 to register. 
4-H is a community of six million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship and life skills.  In Pierce County, 900 youth take part in 4-H community club programs.