Tuesday, November 30, 2021

New Boys and Girls Club in Mission welcomes kids

Lake County Leader | September 30, 2021 12:50 AM

“These are people’s treasures,” said Amy Vaughan, operations director for the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County, at the opening of the Mission Boys and Girls Club and Teen Center on Monday. The “treasures” are the 11 kids signed up as founding members of the new Mission club and the many who will no doubt happily join them soon.

The organization has heard from parents and the schools for years that they would like to have the myriad opportunities and benefits of a Boys and Girls Club in the St. Ignatius area, executive director Aric Cooksley said. With the addition of some special Recovery Act funding and the availability of space at the St. Ignatius schools, now was the right time.

“This is about ‘What can we do to meet the needs of this community?’” Vaughan said. “Each community may have different needs and those needs may be met differently than they are in Ronan, or Polson, or elsewhere.”

However, the new club will still provide the same model in St. Ignatius that has made the two Boys and Girls Clubs in Ronan and Polson so successful, with the same one-on-one attention to children, professional staff training and resources the Ronan and Polson clubs are so well known for, including an after school snack and dinner.

For youngsters age 6 through sixth grade, the large elementary school lunch room, gym and backstage climbing wall have all been made available. The Teen Center, for those in seventh grade through age 18, is opening up the building that was once the art room, which was not in use, on the south side of the high school parking lot. For now, meals are being prepared in, and brought from, the Ronan club, but with the addition of more members meals can be prepared in the school kitchen.

Sally Meier is the new director for the Mission Boys and Girls Club for elementary students. She brings nine years experience building and working with teams at Mission Mountain Enterprises in Ronan. Jason Frost has been selected as director for the Teen Center, bringing a background of 20 years in the U.S. Army and subsequent IT and tech experience. Both are being trained by seasoned staff in effective engagement with youth.

The club is looking to hire more staff for both sites and a part-time front desk administrator, as well as volunteers. High school students are often hired to work with the younger kids. They hope to be able to hire all staff from the St.Ignatius and surrounding community to help build that critical community connection.

Meier said the children spend the first hour after school, “Power Hour,” on completing homework, reading alone or with a mentor, and on other educational activities from practicing math skills to using scissors. Dinner is served at about 5 p.m., followed by any number of activities both inside and outside, until closing at 7 p.m (6 p.m. Fridays).

“The more kids we have around, the more we are able to do,” she said.

In the Teen Center, Frost is looking forward to the new kitchen being installed so he can share his love of cooking with the members, along with his computer skills on Raspberry Pi, Linux, robotics, coding and other cutting edge technologies. And volunteers make up a huge part of the success of Boys and Girls Clubs. Community members are always welcome to bring in a skill or just offer their time to be around children and teens.

Sewing, mechanics, music, reading, science, “anything to share they are passionate about,” Frost said. He will work to bring in craftspeople and teachers of Indigenous art and culture, as well as financial planners and college representatives.

“They might want to teach five or 10 kids, or mentor an individual. Adults who can share something of their life help broaden the world experience of the kids.”

Meier said they need a volunteer to serve meals, though they suspect that person would likely start enjoying the children enough to get involved with them in other ways as well.

The goal, Cooksley said, is “to help kids become the best version of themselves.”

“This can be kind of a second home,” he said. “A place where kids can come hang out with friends, make sure there’s the opportunity to keep up with the demands of schoolwork, and also have the opportunity to learn practical skills, and have a place to just be a teen.” He said the club offers the opportunity to learn to problem solve, deal with relationships, and “learn from people who care about them, and have a little more life experience. It’s a great opportunity to gain positive self esteem.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs are funded mostly by donors, which allows them to keep membership dues low, $90 for the entire school year, with scholarships available. Parent orientation meetings, which are required for their children to attend, will be offered at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29 and Thursday, Sept. 30. Parents unable to attend either date can schedule an individual appointment.

Regular club hours are 3:20 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 2:15 to 6 p.m. Friday As this Friday is a school PIR day, they will be open from noon to 6 p.m.

For more information, call 406-744-2100 or email mission@flatheadbgs.org.