A decade ago, Dot Santy decided to make Christmas a little brighter for the students enrolled in Project YES.
Now Santy is trying to save the program.
Santy, along with many of her neighbors in the Highlands on Dove Mountain, have supported Project YES, an after-school program for underprivileged children on the south side.
“Project YES encourages the grade-school children of South Tucson to stay in school by teaching them self-confidence and academic success,” Santy said.
Playing Santa for the students used to be enough, but when she found out the program was in real financial trouble, Santy rolled up her sleeves to help out. Project YES lost over a third of its grant funding and was forced to start charging parents $30 a week to enroll their children. For many this became too big of a burden, and enrollment dropped from more than 100 to just 19 students.
Initially, her efforts were to donate what she could, and then she turned to her friends who helped with the Christmas program. She raised a few thousand dollars, but wants to do more. Her new goal is to raise $35,000 so that 85 students, which is full capacity for the school-age program, can attend.
“The program was crippled by this huge loss,” Santy said.
Santy is trying a variety of ways to raise those funds. She recently started a GoFundMe page, which has raised over $1,200 in about a month.
She believes that Project YES is a huge benefit, not only to the families, but to the community as a whole.
“Success early encourages them to continue with their education and become contributing citizens to our community,” Santy said. “The alternative, as we all know, can be dropping out of school and involvement in gang activity, substance abuse and other such negative behaviors.”
Project YES was originally founded in 1983 as a “tutoring and homework help program that provides high quality services aimed at improving academic achievement of children living in poverty.” About 10 years ago the program was placed under the guidance of the Tucson Urban League.
A $35,000, three-year grant came to an end in late 2015 and due to the eligibility requirements, the grant could not be renewed. The program was also at risk of losing some of their funding from the city of Tucson and Pima County. DES made up some of the funding, but there were limitations to whom they could help.
Even with the funding cuts Project YES has strived to improve. It became a year-long program, staying open in the summer months, and also added an all-day preschool with the goal of making sure the students are “kindergarten ready” by the time they leave.
The Tucson Urban League Family Resource Center is also providing support services to the families of Project YES and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Santy first became involved 10 years ago by helping to provide Christmas presents for the students. When she learned that so many of the children that were enrolled in the program were among the poorest in town and might not otherwise receive a Christmas gift, she organized a toy drive among her friends in the Highlands and her husband John even donned a Santa Claus costume early on.
“That just didn’t seem right to me, and I knew many of my friends would be truly excited to provide a gift for one or more of these children knowing it would be so very appreciated,” Santy said. “Once I started Santa’s Workshop, I was literally overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and generosity of the many folks living at The Highlands. Buying the requested gift and wrapping it up for their special child has become the true meaning of Christmas for many.”
The Dove Mountain Rotary Club soon became the sponsors and continues in that role. Those early experiences in running the Santa’s Workshop have helped Santy in her new role of trying to save Project YES.
She and several of the scholarship donors have met to discuss other fundraising options to complement the crowd funding campaign. Some ideas they are considering are applying for grants, talking to area restaurateurs about having a special night where they donate a percentage of proceeds, asking large real estate firms for support and having a fundraising luncheon at The Highlands.
To help Project YES go to Santy’s GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/ProjectYES