CASA GRANDE — Over slices of pizza and cups of soda, about 50 Casa Grande kids ranging in age from middle schoolers to high schoolers discussed the challenges today’s families face and the importance of after-school programs as part of a special Arizona Town Hall meeting Thursday evening.

The meeting at the Casa Grande Community Recreation Center was one of three held with students in the state by Arizona Town Hall. The other meetings were held in Flagstaff and Surprise.

Arizona Town Hall is a private organization that gathers residents, business leaders and government officials together each year to talk about a particular issue of the day, try to come up with possible solutions and then share the information with the public through a series of town hall events in various communities.

Arizona Town Hall events are usually attended by adults, but this year the organization is partnering with the Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence and the Afterschool Alliance to reach out to kids to discuss its latest topic, “Strong Families Thriving Children.”

The Casa Grande students were split up into groups of 10 with instructions to discuss three questions and then report their answers to the larger group. Their answers will be included in Arizona Town Hall’s final report on the topic.

Some of the biggest challenges Casa Grande families face, according to the students at the event, were:

  • A lack of communication between parents and children.
  • Difficulty in paying bills and single and low-income parents finding the support they need.
  • Parents having to work multiple jobs to support their family.
  • Finding a job for some unemployed parents.

“Parents need to be more involved in their kids’ lives,” said the student spokesman for the Tortoise Group. “And kids should be more involved in family life.”

The students found that more programs that could provide a safe place for kids to go after school could help, such as youth groups, church groups and organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs. More food banks and more government assistance programs might help families that are struggling, the students said. — as well as having a trusted friend or person that either a child or parent could go to simply to talk things out or ask advice.

The students all agreed that after-school programs are a big boon to working families.

“After-school programs provide a place for kids to be safe and feel safe,” said a spokesman for the Desert Fox Group.

After-school programs also provide a support system where kids can go to talk to a trusted friend or adult about things that might be happening in their life, said another group. They also give kids a bit of independence and a conversation starter for parents and kids.

Arizona Town Hall will hold a statewide town hall on the topic Nov. 14-16 at the Sheraton Crescent Hotel in Phoenix. People interested in participating in the statewide town hall can register at http://www.aztownhall.org/Upcoming_Town_Hall.

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