Lighting Up Partnerships for Afterschool in Arizona

My name is Angel Cancino and I am an Outreach Coordinator with The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence (AzCASE). I have developed a keen spirit of service working and volunteering in the nonprofit and social sector for the past nine years. I came to AzCASE as a second year AmeriCorps VISTA member. My first year as a VISTA was as a Capacity Building Specialist with the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, where I was exposed to over 1,000 nonprofit member organizations of the 20,000+ nonprofits in the state of Arizona, including AzCASE, one of 50 statewide afterschool networks comprising the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. These networks ensure a coherent, statewide strategy for improving out-of-school time program quality.

In my VISTA position as an Outreach Coordinator with AzCASE, I work together with our team in developing community partnerships, implementing our communication strategy, and helping to create a sustainability plan for our organization.

One of my goals as a VISTA with AzCASE is to take our organization’s mission of promoting accessible, high-quality expanded learning opportunities for all Arizona children and youth, and help bring our services to our state’s rural and scarce-resourced communities that need them the most.

With this goal in mind, I helped develop a partnership between AzCASE and the statewide organization Arizona Town Hall. Arizona Town Hall educates, engages, connects and empowers people to resolve important issues through consensus, not division, using a process based on respectful dialogue that values diverse perspectives, builds relationships and fosters leadership development.

This past October 24th, AzCASE and Arizona Town Hall sponsored three statewide “Future Leaders Town Halls” across Arizona, including rural areas such as Casa Grande and Flagstaff, AZ. The town halls were part of more than 10,000 events across the country that celebrated the 20th anniversary of “Lights On Afterschool,” a celebration of after-school programs and their impact on youth organized by the Afterschool Alliance.

With these events as part of the Lights On Afterschool celebration, our goal was to bring attention to the value of out-of-school time programming as a significant component of this year’s Arizona Town Hall topic of Strong Families Thriving Children.

Over 100 middle and high school youth came together to discuss the topic Strong Families and Thriving Children and the role that afterschool plays in creating strong families and thriving children. These statewide events definitely contributed to AzCASE’ mission to increase communication and awareness about the role of high-quality expanded learning opportunities to support the vital role of out-of-school time programs in a child’s intellectual, social, emotional and physical development through the media, meetings, workshops, summits, and other communication venues.

Nationwide, Arizona has the highest rate for percentage of children birth to 17 years who have experienced two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are traumatic events that take place in children’s lives before age 18 that harm their developing brains and bodies.

These youth town halls were also part of the Arizona Town Hall’s statewide Community Town Halls designed specifically for an up close, local look and solution-based conversation on the topic of Strong Families Thriving Children. AzCASE and Arizona Town Hall share the same goal of empowering youth to reach their full potential. For this reason, we thought that Arizona Town Hall and their Future Leaders Town Halls concept were the perfect type of events to celebrate Lights On Afterschool.

Protective factors for youth such as positive relationships and social and emotional competences can prevent children from experiencing adversity and can protect against many of the negative health and life outcomes even after adversity has occurred. Out-of-school time programs provide these strong tools and spaces for youth development.

As we were able to hear directly from the youth voices, out-of-school time programs are a very significant component of what makes strong families and thriving children and AzCASE is proud to be the organization in Arizona that is leading these advocacy efforts, bringing the community together, and giving youth a voice to talk about these issues.

Personally, I feel very proud to have been part of an amazing team that put together these events for our community and youth while helping AzCASE develop more than 15 new partnerships with local government, school districts and other nonprofit organizations.

Here below are a couple of the consensus statements from the big group discussions answering the following question:

What role do afterschool programs play in creating strong families and thriving children?

Flagstaff, AZ

Afterschool programs can make or break our children and families. They provide safe spaces and opportunities for children to learn and grow. They provide opportunities that prepare youth for further education, including both formal education as well as life and communication skills.

 They allow children and youth to make friends and to have additional emotional support in a safe environment where they can share challenges that may be facing them or their families. They create structure, discipline and additional opportunities.

 Afterschool programs allow parents who need to work the security of knowing their children are well cared for and they provide children with additional educational support such as tutoring and homework assistance. We need to make sure to provide adequate transportation to these programs because afterschool programs help to make happy children and a strong families. They are essential.

 Casa Grande, AZ

Afterschool programs play a big role in creating strong families and thriving children. Out-of-school time programs offer children opportunities to be more active in sports, help with homework, and engage in productive activities to learn valuable things rather than being home alone and unsupervised.

 The relationships built in afterschool programs are a positive influence on kids. Educators as well as peers help instill a sense of determination and self-discipline on all children participating in afterschool.

 A very important reason why afterschool programs are instrumental for creating strong families is that they offer a support system for those going through adversity. Children can get involved with activities in a safe environment that distracts them form issues going on at home. The relationships between youth and the staff are great for children who are looking for an adult to talk to outside of home. Children can meet amazing and supportive friendships that will always be by their side and help them in times that they need it most.

 Parents experience less stress knowing that their children have a safe place to go afterschool. Parents can also make relationships with other parents who take their kids to afterschool programs and share similar experiences talking to each other.


At the conclusion of the events, youth were asked to write on their “I Will” cards answering the question:

What one action will you take as a result of your participation in this Town Hall?

 – I will talk to my parents about what I learned today, afterschool. And remember the discussions we talked about.

– What I learned today was that you have to communicate to children and your kid will give it back.

– I will show this program to my family and friends. I will not forget this program.

– I will understand that how boys and girls club helped out with families and other afterschool programs.

– I will understand what afterschool programs do and how they can help young children and adults.

– I will share this knowledge with my friends and help them help others.

– I will talk to my friends about trying to learn more activities and group things.

– I will remember that parents always try their hardest even though they’re not always there but they will always be there for you.

– I will take part in afterschool programs and do more afterschool activities in general

– I will take what I learned today and apply it to my everyday life. I will bring this to all my friends and family and explain the importance of strong families.

– I will take part in afterschool activities and also get more involved.

– I will help those and be a support system for those struggling. I will help a friend who has talked to me or will talk to me in the future.

– I will talk to my parents about problems that we currently have in our community in Casa Grande.

– I will be a good member of my clubs and a good brother, son and friend.

– I learned that people need to have a place to be and they can go to the boys and girls club.

– I will help my parents at home even if they don’t tell me to. I will help others in need, respect others and be kind.

– I will start volunteering in my community.

– I will become more active in afterschool programs, not just for me but for others as well.

– I will take what I learned and apply it to my daily life. I am going to build a better foundation in my family and try to have better communication.

– I will start conversations about sensitive topics.

– I will try to spark interest or provide help to other people in the community.

– I will have relationships with others and offer support and friendship.

– I will spread my knowledge to the community and be open hands to the ones who are struggling.

– Work hard to make those around me feel as if they belong and are supported, along with offering my help with any problems they may have.

– Be more aware of how the people around me act if they are acting differently than usual.

– Talk about what we need for strong thriving children and families.

– Talk about the health and wellness needs of children and families.

– Spread what I learned today. I will tell my teachers and my friends because some people have more connections than others.

– Take advantage of opportunities that are provided for me. I will also share with friends and family opportunities that are out there. Also, I will manage my time and help others.

– Advocate for myself and make known that there are programs that can help. I will do a better job at making more choices about my future and be that someone people can talk to.

– Share my knowledge with families and community.

– Learn about ACEs and share what I learn.

– Volunteer and vote.

– Inspire others to educate themselves.

– Convince others of the importance of mental health awareness.

– Talk to friends about personal problems.

– Be kind.

– Come show up to these places just to show some support and help out if needed!!!

– Show support and kindness to everyone.


News coverage of the events from statewide media can be found at the following links:

Arizona Horizon PBS – Lights on Afterschool events for after-school programs

Arizona Daily Sun – Town hall gathers youth, community members for strong families

 KTAR 92.3 FM  – The Think Tank with Mike O’Neil – Building Strong Families in Arizona