WAPATO, Wash. -- Jaelynn Traub wants to be a chef when she grows up, as does Juinevere Wesley. Kwalani Goudy hopes to become a veterinarian, Semone Kenoras a geologist and Gracie Douglas a lawyer.

The sixth-graders are part of the University of Washington’s Pipeline Project, offered every Tuesday after school at The Campbell Farm. The partnership with the university involves hands-on science — they’ve made rockets using plastic bottles and baking soda, for example — along with trips to the UW campus, museums and more.

They’re inspired by guest speakers and have become leaders among the dozens of younger children who participate in another after-school program at the farm on Wednesdays.

“We’re empowering our kids,” said Carman Pimms, director of The Campbell Farm, which is managed by the Northwest Coast Presbytery.

She and her daughter, Dionna Pimms, the farm’s assistant director, both grew up around this Lower Valley town. They know how important quality after-school programs are, especially in an area where 97 percent of students are at or below the poverty level.

But the need for such programs — especially in the Lower Valley and other poverty-stricken areas of the state — far exceeds the funding available, according to the Afterschool Alliance, which works to ensure all youths have access to affordable, quality after-school programs.

Among Washington’s approximately 1.1 million K-12 students, 183,099 are enrolled in after-school programs, with 333,927 waiting for an available program, according to afterschoolalliance.org. Another 217,293 of the state’s students are alone and unsupervised after school, the website notes.

Those numbers are underscored by the fact that after-school programs have the potential to curb juvenile crime, risk-taking behavior and risk of victimization and positively impact youth development, supporters note.

In The Campbell Farm’s case, a $5,000 grant from the Yakima Valley Community Foundation has enabled the organization to offer more after-school programming, which is particularly scarce around Wapato.

But even the single biggest provider of after-school opportunities in the Lower Valley — the Northwest Community Action Center — has waiting lists. More than 1,600 youths are served daily at 15 after-school sites from Harrah to Grandview, said Adrian Almanza, education services manager for Northwest Community Action Center in Toppenish.

The center is a division of Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic and oversees all of the federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school programming in the Valley. Most are in schools, serving enrolled students.

But the need to offer more for youths is high across the Valley, and especially so in the Lower Valley, Almanza said.

“We could be serving a lot more; we don’t have the capacity to do that within reason of what we can offer at our sites,” Almanza said. “When we’re able to partner with the school district, then we’re able to serve more youth.”

What’s at stake

Quality after-school programs can make a crucial difference for all kids, but especially for those growing up amid challenges, whether they’re struggling with grades, emotional issues or difficult conditions at home.

Many Yakima County after-school providers know those issues well and offer more educational opportunities, personal support and guidance. Such efforts build resilience in youths who have experienced childhood trauma and go far beyond offering just a place for kids to mark time until their parents or other family are home.

“It’s not just having any program; it’s really about having a high-quality program (where students are) engaging in learning, social and emotional learning,” said David Beard of the Seattle-based Washington Afterschool Network.

After-school program providers know how important it is that as many students as possible receive academic support, mentoring, career development and character education beyond what schools can provide. Amid growing awareness of bullying and its potentially lifelong repercussions, it’s also important to offer a supportive environment where students can be themselves without judgment.

Nearly a third of Yakima County sixth- and eighth-graders said they had been bullied in 2016; those numbers dropped to 23 percent for 10th-graders and 17 percent for 12th-graders, according to the 2016 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.

“I like coming here because we have lots of fun and we hang out with everyone here and no one’s mean to each other,” said Goudy, a sixth-grader participating in the The Campbell Farm program.

‘Everyone has a voice’

As the only after-school provider in the Wapato area not affiliated with the Wapato School District, The Campbell Farm plays a unique role in offering mentoring, meals and tutoring for children on the Yakama Reservation.

In particular, feeding those who are hungry throughout the school year and during the farm’s summer school program is an important priority for this nonprofit, which is governed by a nine-member board. About 65 youths, predominantly Native American and Latino, are enrolled in the farm’s after-school programs, though attendance fluctuates.

All attend for free; the Tuesday program is grant-supported, and administrators see the Wednesday program as part of their ministry.

“My mom is very passionate about this area,” Dionna Pimms said. “We’re faith-based — we have to show them that God’s here all the time.”

That means being mindful of families that struggle with hunger during school breaks and providing them with boxes of food.

The 40-acre property, which includes several buildings, hosts a variety of gatherings along with its after-school programs, which it has offered for at least 10 years, she said.

“Some families really need a safe place for their kids,” Carman Pimms said. “Here, they have a safe place.”

In Washington, the rate of suicides among Native youths ages 10 to 24 is more than double the rate of any other ethnic population. Native youths have the highest suicide rate of any group in the U.S., according to the Pacific Northwest Suicide Resource Center.

“Growing up here, you know what the need is,” said Dionna Pimms, who graduated from Wapato High School in 2002.

Some find talking about their challenges — such as having less time to finish homework sometimes because of taking on family responsibilities — helpful, so children who attend the Wednesday after-school activities have a chance to speak up in a low-key gathering when everyone gets to talk, Carman Pimms said.

“We talk about our highs, our lows and what to look forward to,” she said of the group discussions. “Everyone has a voice and gets to be heard. A lot of these kids are bullied or feel like they have no voice.”

Kids also get to go beyond the familiar places they’ve seen their entire lives and into futures they may not have imagined.

“We take them out of here,” Dionna said. “These kids can see themselves on a college campus. That’s probably the standout thing.”

Learning opportunities

While President Donald Trump has proposed scrapping federal funding for after-school programs, they receive strong bipartisan support because they demonstrate results. They offer expanded learning opportunities such as career exploration and other activities students can’t always pursue during the school day, Almanza said.

“Their learning is continuing. It doesn’t just stop at 3 o’clock or 3:15.”

Programming reflects students’ interests, which range from biomedical careers to robotics, photography and arts and crafts.

“Staff provide activities based on their needs and that align with the school day, expanding on school activities,” Almanza said. “With that also comes character education, life skills and 21st century skills that they’re exposed to.”

Students also participate in field trips to explore careers, colleges, national parks and cities like Seattle. “Most of our kids have never been past Yakima, some never past the Lower Valley,” he said.

And promoting behavioral health and wellness is a big part of today’s after-school programs. Youths may struggle with adverse childhood experiences, commonly known as ACEs, said Angelina Thomas, operations manager in Behavioral Health Services for the Farm Workers Clinic. Examples include parents who are separated or divorced, physical and sexual abuse, or a mother abused by her husband or a boyfriend.

Such experiences can impact a child’s life emotionally, mentally and physically far into adulthood. Staff at all 15 after-school program sites in the Lower Valley have taken training to familiarize themselves with ACEs so they can identify key indicators in youths and their families, Thomas said.

“It makes them approach their interactions with the kids differently,” she said. “If there’s a need there, they’re able to refer students to them and ensure that they’re receiving the assistance they need.”

For example, staff are more empathetic when students act out, and instead of reacting emotionally they try to find out why students are acting that way. They also check in more often with students to see how they are feeling.

“I think a lot of the after-school programs are becoming more aware of checking in on emotions,” Thomas said. “That is what is going to combat ACEs the most.”

Some staff also are trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid, Thomas noted. “You’re able to help and identify someone who may be going through a mental or substance abuse crisis,” she added.

“I feel like it’s improved me, helped me become a better person,” Marisol Romero, 17, said of the nearly 12 years she has attended after-school programs at Safe Haven Community Center in Toppenish.

Romero, a junior at Toppenish High School, leaves Tuesday for Washington, D.C. She’s one of five youth ambassadors from throughout the country representing Afterschool Alliance who will talk to politicians and others about the value of federally funded after-school programs.

“Through the years of coming, I’ve come out of my shell,” she said.

As the former program coordinator of Safe Haven from 2008-17, Almanza has known Romero for much of the time she has gone to the center, through which Romero went hiking and camping for the first time.

“She’s come a long way,” he said of her former shyness

Romero, who is traveling with Beth Monfils, program coordinator for Northwest Community Action Center, is looking forward to her first plane trip. She’s already had some practice speaking to politicians; she traveled to Olympia in January to tell her story about Safe Haven’s impact on her life.

“Coming here has really influenced me. I’m planning on going to (Central Washington University) for business and opening a community center,” she said.