'Mercury Classic' bill would help raise funds for Boys and Girls Club

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2003

Almost every day of the week, the voices of scores of excited youngsters echo through the gymnasium at the Boys and Girls Club of Homer. In other rooms, students learn to run computers, get help with their homework or engage in a host of other games and activities.

Outside, a skateboard park sees plenty of action, while a field of green behind the old Homer Middle School building provides space for soccer, kickball and more.

The benefits from so many participating in wholesome activities rather than being idle on the streets of Homer are among the immeasurable intangibles provided by the Homer Boys and Girls Club program. But that program costs money, and raising funds to keep things operating is almost a full-time job, say club officials.

Now, the Alaska House of Representatives has taken action that could help. Members voted 34-0 Saturday approving a bill that would give the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula-Homer branch a new fund-raising tool.

House Bill 232, sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, would allow the club to operate the "Homer Mercury Classic," a game of chance in which players attempt to guess closest to the time at which the temperature reaches a certain degree for the first time in a year. The game would be played twice a year -- in the spring, when the target temperature would be 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and again in the fall when players would attempt to guess when the thermometer will fall to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Such classics are not allowed under a gaming permit without legislation that gives a specific group or area to conduct one.

"The proceeds from the classic will help provide a place where about 300 children, from ages 7 to 12, can gather in a safe and learning friendly environment," Seaton said. "In light of dwindling state revenues, this will be a valuable fund-raiser when other sources of money support cannot be guaranteed."

Each entry into the classic will cost $2. The proceeds from the classic will be divided evenly between the Boys and Girls Club of Homer and the classic winner or winners.

"This program allows children to participate in scientific processes, while earning money for their program in a fun and educational way," Seaton said.

Running the Homer club costs roughly $175,000 a year, according to LaRae Paxton, finance director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, under which the Homer club operates as a subunit. The city of Homer contributes by providing a building, which includes a gymnasium.

"The city generously helps us with a location," said Jane Tollefsrud, assistant director of the Homer club. "We could not do it without the city's support."

The Homer club opened in 1999. Jane's husband, DeWaine Tollefsrud, joined the staff in 2000. A year later, DeWaine assumed the director's job and Jane took on the assistant's position. She also runs the club's after-school homework program and serves as a tutor.

Fund-raising has largely been up to the Tollefsruds, Jane said, and those efforts have taken on a variety of forms. For instance, on May 31, contributors can buy a $75 gourmet dinner at the Otter Cove Resort and sail there aboard the Bay Explorer.

As for the Homer Mercury Classic, Jane said it was an idea she has been pushing for some time, as the club faces rising costs and dwindling sources of funding. She said she believes people will play the game, but she has no idea how much it might generate in the first few years.

She said she expects to start small, focusing on promoting the classic in and around Homer. Eventually, though, she hopes to expand ticket sales across the peninsula and perhaps statewide. Down the road, online ticket sales might even bring in funds through the 3,000 Boys and Girls Clubs across the country.

She noted that the Tanana Ice Classic started small, but now sells tickets well beyond Alaska each year.

"My father-in-law buys Tanana Ice Classic tickets online from Minnesota," she said.

"My hope is that eventually, years from now, the Homer Mercury Classic pays for the Homer Boys and Girls Club," Jane said.

House Bill 232 is now in the Senate. Jane said she doubts it will get Senate attention this session, but she doesn't expect much opposition next year.

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