When looking for local success stories, certainly the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County must be included on the list.
The local club was founded in 2001 in what was once the bus drivers’ lounge on the campus of Tumwater High School. When the doors were opened, 45 boys and girls signed up to participate in a variety of activities
Today Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County has four locations, serves more than 2,000 youngsters and will soon launch a $5.95 million capital campaign to raise money for a new club on the campus of Garfield Elementary School on Olympia’s west side.
It’s a project the community can, and should, embrace.
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It’s not an overstatement to say that the Boys & Girls Clubs save lives. The national organization has more than 4,000 chartered clubs in every state in the nation and serves about 4.2 million young people annually. Go to any club and talk to the youngsters, or talk to graduates of the program, and you will hear story after story about how the club and its adult role models turned troubled lives around.
There are stories of young people who have moved beyond attempted suicide, past drug abuse, survived physical abuse and neglect, to lead happy and productive lives, thanks to the mentoring, support and guidance provided them by staff members.
Simply put, the clubs offer young people a safe haven – a before- and after-school environment where they learn to make better choices, improve their grades and reduce the chances of becoming yet another name on the student dropout list. The physical activities help keep youngsters fit and help them learn about proper nutrition and exercise.
The clubs’ core programs engage youth in activities with adults, peers and family members that enable them to boost their self-esteem and develop their full potential. The programs meet the physical, emotional, cultural and social needs and interests of all youngsters, whether it’s leadership development, career planning, health and life skills development, or sports and fitness.
From those very meager beginnings in the bus barn at Tumwater High School, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County has been on a slow, but steady path to extend service to more South Sound youngsters. In addition to the Tumwater club, which has been greatly expanded and remodeled, the organization operates a club in a building owned by North Thurston Public Schools in Lacey and at the Rochester Community Center. There’s also a middle school-only program at Jefferson Middle School in Olympia.
Now club officials – under the expert direction of Joe Ingoglia, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County – are on the threshold of expansion to a fifth location. While still very early in the process, Ingoglia and community leaders serving on the board of directors, have taken the initial steps to establish the next full-service club at Garfield Elementary. “If everything goes right, we would expect that a club could be open in three years,” Ingoglia said.
Club officials deserve credit for being very strategic in their siting decisions. They know and understand the student demographics and pockets where there are sizeable populations of at-risk kids in Thurston County. The clubs are located where they can do the most good.
About 49 percent of Garfield students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch programs, an indicator of poverty.
Ingoglia said, “We did a lot of research into locations, and I think the site at Garfield was kind of the best combination of space available and high-density neighborhood and access to a number of schools.
A Boys & Girls Club would give children in the area structured activities, mentors, and supervision before and after school hours, said Garfield Principal Bob Hodges. “There’s just a huge need for it in this neighborhood,” he said. “A lot of my kids don’t have the typical middle class opportunities that exist in other areas of the district.”
He added, “I can’t think of one thing that we can do for this neighborhood that would advantage kids more than to have a Boys & Girls club at our site. I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
We totally agree.