Piecing Together the Out-of-School Care Puzzle

By Nikki Kallio | Photography by Hillary Schave

When women began entering the workforce in greater numbers in the 1970s, the need for safe after-school childcare options led
to the launch of Wisconsin Youth Company in Madison. Now approaching its 50-year anniversary, Wisconsin Youth Company executive director Rebecca Carlin says the organization’s mission is just as crucial now as it was then.

“One thing that has stayed absolutely constant is that need for those after-school programs,” Carlin says. “That has not changed since 1974. We don’t anticipate that it will change in the next 50 years.”

Wisconsin Youth Company provides vital out-of-school- time programming for more than 1,400 kids in Dane and Waukesha counties, through about 30 programs, including two neighborhood centers and summer camps.

Today, the increasing costs of care and its availability “is really impacting women being able to continue to be in the workforce,” Carlin says. “We still see ourselves as an essential part of that puzzle, helping working parents, but especially working women, figure that out — how to be able to maintain both of those things.”

The organization is now facing a fiscal cliff of COVID- relief dollars running out, she says. “That has led us to a new initiative, which is really taking on a very active advocacy role.” A Community Impact Grant from the Madison Community Foundation will help support a new advocacy position for the out-of-school time industry. “We have to share how important this work is to the families that we serve,” Carlin says.

Wisconsin Youth Company is predominantly led by women, which isn’t unique in Carlin’s field, but for her organization in particular, they work hard to promote from within.

“Almost all of our leadership have held program positions,” Carlin says. “They’ve done direct service work with kids within our organization, which requires a lot of coaching and teaching of management skills.”

Carlin became executive director in 2016, and had previously worked with the organization’s Elver Park Neighborhood Center. She has worked with kids throughout her career, and sought a role that allowed her to work with elementary-age kids in particular.

“… Working with kids is really foundational to creating the better world that we all want to see,” Carlin says. “… I love the learning process and I feel like working with kids, you get to be a part of it every single day.”

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