According to the National Youth Development Information Center, 18 percent of children -- that's almost 13 million kids -- live in families whose income is below the federal poverty level, and 39 percent of American youth live in low-income families. With over a quarter of a million children in the Central Ohio area, the poverty levels have gone from 8% up to as high as 24% in the city of Columbus.

When a declining economy necessitates tighter budgets, social services are often among the first programs to be cut. Unfortunately, youth are often disproportionately affected. "It does the worst possible thing to children," Renuka Mayadev, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, said of widespread poverty: "It leaves them without hope. When kids begin to think that there's no way out, you lose the best motivator."

According to an earlier report from the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio, the number of Ohio counties with at least one-fourth of their children living in poverty doubled in only one year, with Franklin County tumbling into the group. With family budgets strained to the breaking point, the need for financial assistance in enabling participation in positive experiences for youth is overwhelming. While the programs may be in place, the participation fee becomes a barrier for some.

It is estimated that in Ohio, during the 2011-12 school year over 200,000 boys and over 135,000 girls participated in high school sports activities alone. When you add in Middle School activities, club sports, music and faith-based programs, we estimate that over 75 of youth in Central Ohio participated in some sort of aforementioned programming that required a participation fee of $25 - $250. How many were stopped from engaging in these types of activities due to the cost?

If only 5% more youth in Central Ohio took advantage of existing opportunities because they had participation fee assistance, we would be helping over 12,500 youth achieve their goals and dreams.