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Education

Lincoln County Youth Center Opens For Preschool And After School Programs

 An empty classroom, with a small table, bookshelves and a play mat, in the new Lincoln County Youth Center
Courtesy of The Lincoln County Youth Center
The new Lincoln County Youth Center opens this week with a new preschool and an after school program for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

This past year, volunteers transformed an abandoned church in Richfield, about an hour northeast of Twin Falls, into a new preschool and after-school center.

The Lincoln County Youth Center is opening its doors this week, after a year of planning and fundraising by local community members. Its preschool, which is already full, costs $11 per day, and the after school program for students in all grades is free.

The idea was dreamed up by County Commissioner Rebecca Wood, who used to work in Richfield’s public school cafeteria.

Karma Metzler Fitzgerald, the president of the Lincoln County Youth Commission and one of the co-founders of the youth center, said it’s an especially important service for this community where more than half of workers commute anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour each way to Twin Falls or Blaine County for jobs.

“That means their kids are home unattended for long hours of the day,” she said.

Lincoln County is rural, with a population of slightly more than 5,000 people. Recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates found the total population decreased by about 1.6% in the past decade.

Between 60% and 80% of kids enrolled in Lincoln County Schools are considered “low-income,” according to the Idaho State Department of Education.

“We don’t have a lot of daycare options, we have no other after school options. We have very little preschool,” Fitzgerald said.

If families aren’t able to pay for sports or 4-H, the kids are usually out of luck.

“We believe we can do better for our children in this county,” she said.

The after school program includes agricultural and science activities, arts such as music and theater, life skills and recreation. On Fridays when Lincoln County schools are closed, students can go on field trips.

The center is funded for up to 85 students in its after school program by more than a million dollars in grants and private donations. Fitzgerald said one anonymous donor sent in a check for $25,000.

“Those kinds of things don’t happen to us very often,” she said.

The center also received grant funding from AARP, the Idaho Department of Commerce and the Idaho State Department of Education, among other agencies.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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