It's all about kids

Club strives to meet needs of area youths

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2002

How far can a little money go? If it's given to the Boys and Girls Club, the answer is, a long way.

Despite ongoing funding concerns at the national level, the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula is expanding and going strong, said Tina Herford, who recently took over as the official executive director of the club. (See related story, this page.)

The regional club is part of the Boys and Girls Club of America, a national agency committed to providing education, athletic and enrichment programs for youth.

Working from a $1.7 million annual operating budget, the regional organization supports six area clubs operating in 13 separate locations around the Kenai Peninsula. The clubs offer all-day summer programs, after-school tutorial sessions and sports programs, in addition to special field trips, computer classes and other entertainment activities.

The regional club employs more than 100 people, plus a summer junior staff made up of area high school students, and serves more than 3,100 kids on the peninsula.

"What we're offering kids is not just a place to come hang out," Herford said. "They can come and be able to grow and learn in a fun, positive way."

The Kenai Peninsula organization started with just a single club in Kenai. In the past seven years, five more clubs have been added -- in Seldovia, Seward, Homer, Nikiski and Seward.

Both Kenai and Homer have facilities specifically for the club; the other cities operate the Boys and Girls Club out of district schools.

"We're very fortunate that the school district is supportive," Herford said. "If it wasn't for the school district's support, it would be much more costly."

The school district, of course, gains a lot from the programs as well.

One of the Boys and Girls Club's primary offerings is After the Bell, an educational program providing homework help and tutoring to area children.

The program started in Soldotna and was so successful that the district asked the Boys and Girls Club to expand it to other areas, Herford said.

It works like this:

Students go to the club -- either at their school or by bus -- after classes end. They get an after-school snack, have some time to play and burn energy, then start in on their homework with the help of tutors.

A team of tutors works with a group of students throughout the year, coordinating with school principals, counselors and teachers to identify each student's needs and provide as much help as possible.

"We've had kids come in failing classes and by the end of the year they're getting above average grades," Herford said.

The After the Bell program also offers enrichment programs and fun activities for the children.

The program runs every day after school from 3 to 6 p.m. Though it started out only in Soldotna schools, this year, After the Bell also will be in Kenai, Nikiski, Homer and Seward.

The program costs families $20 a child for the whole school year, scholarships are available to anyone who needs them, and registration is open year-round.

Another program the club offers is the summer clubhouse. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. during June, July and August, the clubhouse provides kids with breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack and a full day of sports and games, arts and crafts, learning activities and computer time.

This year, the Kenai and Soldotna summer clubhouses served about 100 kids each per day, while the Homer club had 70 to 80 kids every day.

"We're getting a lot of kids, parents constantly thanking us," Herford said. "If it wasn't for us, kids would be sitting at home or possibly getting into trouble."

The summer clubhouse costs $100 per child per month, with a $200 a month limit for families. Scholarships also are available for that program -- as well as any offered by the Boys and Girls Club.

"Not one child is ever turned away," Herford said. "(Applying for scholarships) is a simple process. We're not invasive. We want to make sure if a kid wants to be here, he will be."

Another summer program for older students is the Alaska Litter Prevention and Recycling Program, which is run through the club. Youth 14 and older are hired as litter pick-up crews, traveling around the area and cleaning up roadsides.

Throughout the year, the Boys and Girls Club also runs a series of community-wide athletic programs, including indoor and outdoor soccer, basketball and flag football.

"We had almost 900 kids in our outdoor soccer last year, and indoor soccer was so full we had to go out into the community seeking other gym space so we didn't have to turn kids away," Herford said. "There's a real demand for these programs and they're growing every year."

But just because the demand is growing doesn't mean funding is growing. The Boys and Girls Club is forced to maintain its many programs on a tight budget.

Most of its money currently comes through the national organization from the U.S. Bureau of Justice. Since 1998, the Kenai Peninsula club has received $1,160,000 from the justice bureau to start the additional area clubs and expand outreach programs. Funding from that government department, though, is only guaranteed through 2006.

The club also had $1.6 million to work with for the After the Bell program. That money went to the school district and club jointly to fund the education program for three years -- though, Herford said, careful money management has allowed the club to stretch the funds for a fourth year of programming.

The club also receives funding from grants, the United Way and corporate contributions, as well as a minimal income from program fees.

"Right now, we're trying to come up with some permanent way to fund the club," Herford said. "We're working on an endowment program and possibly sponsorship for different programs. We're also working very hard on partnerships within the community."

The club already has partnerships with the school district, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, Kenai Peninsula College and Bridges, to name a few.

Those partnerships, Herford said, allow the club to "take the services we provide and the services they provide to give kids more of what they need."

The partnerships also are a source of hope for Herford, who said she is confident the club will be able to continue all its programs for the long term because the community has shown strong support for the club.

"We're making a difference, there's no question. For a lot of kids, this may be the only happy, welcoming face, the only person taking an interest in how their day was," she said. "We're making a huge difference."

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