Who are you planning to invite to your “Lights On Afterschool” event this year? The nationwide event celebrating afterschool programs and their important role in the lives of children, families and communities has become a hallmark of the afterschool movement, and this year observes its 20th anniversary. It’s a big deal! So besides deciding the kind of event you’re hosting – a low-key open house, a literacy-inspired poetry reading, or STEM fair – the guest list is critically important – and must-have’s should include local policymakers and elected leaders.
To help the families and the children who rely on school- and community-based afterschool programs, it’s important to make connections with the people who make key decisions over program funding levels or the spaces that house you, for example. Witnessing a “Lights On” events is a powerful way to help decision-makers understand the value your program brings to the community and that the money that’s appropriated is well spent.
Here’s how to invite policymakers and elected leaders to your “Lights On” event.
1. Invite the Member of Congress who represents your service area and do include a staff representative on the invite. Staff members provide elected representatives with important background and insights and often know more about particular issues, such as workforce development or education, than their bosses who deal in hundreds of issues in their work. Michigan’s only designed source of public dollars for afterschool is from the federal budget, so make sure the people who make those decisions are aware of the role that afterschool programs play in their communities.
2. The Michigan After-School Partnership has also been working hard to build awareness for afterschool programs before state elected leaders, with the hopes of garnering state funding one day. Invite your state Representatives and Senators, too. Like Members of Congress, they may likely send a staffer, and that connection should be considered a win, too!
3. There are other local decision-makers and influencers who can be important allies for afterschool, including county commissioners, city council members, school board members from local and intermediate school board districts, as well as local law enforcement officers. They, too, are happy to attend events where they can engage with their constituents – in fact, it’s their job. A “Lights On’’ event is an ideal time to advocate for afterschool and build community.
4. Not sure who your elected leaders are? Programs that operate across a vast area with a number of sites may have more than one representative. There are several great websites that help you identify who represents the communities you serve; simply input each site address or zip code to learn who the elected leaders are for those areas.
a. Learn who represents you at the state and federal levels through the Office of the Secretary of State, and specifically for Members of Congress here. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters also offers a web-based search function for local, state and federally elected officials based on zip code.
b. For locally elected officials at the city, township or county level, check websites for those municipalities or place a call to their offices at the city or township hall. Local and intermediate school board members are also typically listed on school district websites, but contact the school district if you need help.
5. Mail or fax a personalized invitation to the Congressional member’s district office; addresses for these offices can be easily found on a member’s website. For state-level elected officials, send invites to their House or Senate offices, also found on their websites. For local policymakers, contact the municipal where they regularly meet in public session. Be sure to send along a program profile, brochure or some background materials about your program. Call the office to follow up on your invitation. Offer to invite media, as well, and let the elected leaders’ offices know you are doing so.
6. Point out how your program relates to the policymaker’s interests (literacy, improving academic achievement in public schools, workforce and talent development, keeping communities safe by decreasing juvenile crime, helping working families, etc.). Use resources including brochures about your program, the Afterschool Alliance’s issue briefs for background information on different issue areas. Other available resources to include with your program brochure include this one-pager about Michigan Afterschool, or Michigan After-school Partnership-created materials found on our website, including MASP’s ‘’This is Afterschool in Michigan,” MASP’s One-Pager on Talent and Workforce, and MASP’s One-Pager on Literacy.
Below are a few additional pointers for inviting policymakers for an on-site program visit at any time.
7. During the visit, be sure the policymaker hears from students and let the policymaker ask questions or facilitate a discussion about what they gain from the program. Ask parents to share their perspectives on the program’s value; have your principal talk about students’ increased attendance and improved behavior; invite community members to comment on how the program keeps kids out of trouble.
8. Do have program brochures or copies of a program profile on hand. You may want to make copies of any articles, youth essays, parent letters, awards or other documents that demonstrate the community’s support for your program.
9. Use simple, conversational language. Focus on a few key points knowing that less is more. Invite elected leaders and policymakers to see for themselves how important your program is for kids and families in your community.
10. Send a Thank You letter after the visit. Consider including a personal note from students or parents who spent time with the official during the visit.
If you need clarity on any of these points, contact your friends at the MASP. We’re at your service! For Communications Manager Teri Banas, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 517.896.0241.
Afterschool programs in Michigan keep kids safe, boost student success, and help parents keep their jobs. Kids achieve more, productivity goes up, and risky behaviors go down. Share the good news with decision-makers in your community!
Teri Banas is the Communications Manager for the After-School Partnership. The Afterschool Alliance contributed information for this blog.