SIOUX CITY | When he was a boy in the 1950s, George Boykin attended the after-school program at the Sanford Community Center.

Now, Boykin, 74, is hoping the nonprofit can weather the loss of county funding -- previously directed to the center's gang prevention program -- and continue to provide needed services for hundreds of Siouxland children each year.

"I foresee no layoffs. We should be able to sustain the full level of staffing," said Boykin, the executive director of the center, at 1700 Geneva St.

That means all 14 employees, who help provide four different programs, will be able to continue working, he said.

Earlier this year, the Woodbury County Board nixed giving any more money to the Sanford Community Center beyond the fiscal year ending June 30. The money destined for the Sanford gang prevention program was set at $186,925. Similar amounts had been awarded in recent years.

When the decision to halt funding was made, Boykin, who formerly served as a county supervisor, said layoffs could follow for three or more people if replacement funding wasn't found.

A community fundraiser in April helped raise $120,000. This week, Boykin said he's hopeful an additional $80,000 can be raised through additional fundraising, as well as from churches and local, state and federal grants.

"I would like to get it done by August," Boykin said.

The center, which was founded in the 1930s, operates four programs: gang prevention, after-school, summer and alternative suspension.

The after-school program provides tutoring, recreational opportunities and snacks for kids from kindergarten through sixth grade. The program is operated weekdays through 6 p.m.

The summer program runs daily for six weeks through June and July. It's open to kids from kindergarten through 12th grade. This year's session, for 35, is already full.

The alternative suspension program has two teachers who help students who have been suspended from school. Those kids typically have not been charged with crimes, so the program is an alternative to the Woodbury County Juvenile Detention Center. The program usually serves one to five students daily, and up to 125 annually.

The gang prevention program is the biggest Sanford offering, with 300 people served annually by eight employees.

Boykin founded the program in 1992 when the community was seeking to reduce the influence of 25 gangs. Now there are less than a dozen, but there is still a need to have the Sanford counseling, Boykin said.

He said not being a police officer helps the counselors make inroads with kids who are interacting with gangs. They are encouraged to stay in school and steer clear of drugs and crime. Through ongoing sessions with counselors who have strong connections with a lot of cultures in the community, Boykin said the goal is to change their behavior.

"We want to change their attitude toward society as a whole," he said.

Kelsey Johnikin, a 2006 West High School graduate who went on to earn a university basketball scholarship and later a master's degree from Troy University, attended the Sanford summer camps from third through sixth grades.

"While others used their summers getting into trouble, this program allowed me to spend my summer going on field trips, learning new skills and building relationships with friends I still have today," Johnikin said.

IN SEARCH OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Cindy Waitt, a director of the Kind World Foundation and the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention, oversaw a big fundraising event in April at the Orpheum Theatre. It raised $120,000.

Waitt said gang prevention programs are vital to the wider community. The Sanford Center has a culturally diverse pool of employees, who form good bonds in the community, she said.

"They intervene early in a child's life," Waitt said. "That helps keep kids out of expensive placements, such as juvenile detention."

Waitt hopes more funding will materialize.

"Everybody's pretty hopeful. People are learning the story of the Sanford Center, which is helpful," she said.

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County and education reporter

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