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Boys & Girls Clubs expanding in west Modesto

Just like the children it helps, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County keeps growing.

In June, the nonprofit organization launched an after-school program at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center on Martin Luther King Drive, with an initial goal of serving 50 children. By the end of the year, membership there was 226 kids, said Lincoln Ellis, president and chief professional officer of the Stanislaus club.

But demand remains high, with about 700 children on the waiting list for after-school programs offered through Modesto City Schools.

To address that need, the City Council late last month approved $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant carryover funds to purchase a 3,600-square-foot modular building that will be placed in Mellis Park near the King-Kennedy center.

The building – classroom, office and restroom space, as well as a game room and planned tech center – will allow the club to expand its days of operation to all weekdays and possibly some weekend time. The club also may be able to expand its daily hours of operation, Ellis said.

Currently at King-Kennedy, the club is open Mondays through Thursdays between 3 and 7 p.m. – opening earlier when schools have minimum-day hours. “Some days, kids are waiting at the doors for us to open,” said William Lattimore, the Justice Assistance Grant director overseeing the west Modesto site.

Ellis said he hopes the new building will be in place and open for use in May – or the start of summer break at the latest.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus is experiencing growth in general, Ellis said. It also offers after-school programs at Sylvan and Coleman F. Brown elementary schools and Somerset Middle School, all in the Sylvan Union School District. When the club began, in August 2013, it was serving about 300 children. That number climbed to about 1,000 this past year, Ellis said, adding that long-term goals include expanding further into Modesto and other parts of the county.

At the King-Kennedy center, the club operates in partnership with the West Modesto/King Kennedy Neighborhood Collaborative. It’s the first location at which the Stanislaus chapter can provide programs for the full age range Boys & Girls Clubs includes, 6 to 18.

“There’s a lot of need for that age group of 6 to 18,” said Cleopathia Moore-Bell, executive director of the collaborative and chairwoman of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ advisory council. “We (the collaborative) don’t believe in growing ourselves big, but bringing in partners. The Boys & Girls Clubs has been a great partner.” It’s helping children become productive citizens, finish high school and even go on to college, she said.

During the sunny, warm afternoons of the past week, children were exercising their minds and bodies at the King-Kennedy site. Inside the center, three girls gathered around a table to play mancala. Two boys played pingpong as a third kept score. Other kids colored or did homework. Outside, activities included basketball, flag football and footraces.

Boys & Girls Clubs programs are led through staff, junior staff (mostly high schoolers) and parent and community volunteers. They include Triple Play, “a game plan for the mind, body and soul,” developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Torch Club, to develop leadership skills among 10- to 13-year-olds; Keystone Club, which furthers that goal for ages 14 to 18; and SMART (Skills Mastery and Resistance Training) programs for various ages.

Seven-year-old Allana Augustine, who’d just been outside getting some exercise, paused briefly to talk about being a SMART kid. “We learn a lot of stuff, and sometimes what we learn, we write in our journals,” she said. “Right now, we’re learning how to relax, to breathe in and breathe out. ... When we get older, it will be important.”

Twelve-year-old Maurice Johnson, president of the Torch Club at the west Modesto site, said he’s learned leadership skills and helped staff oversee younger children. He enjoys playing football with fellow club members and has been on field trips to Laser Quest, Boomers, the movies and bowling. He’s looking forward to a club trip Friday to the Gallo Center for the Arts to see the Sankofa Theatre Company production of the August Wilson play “Fences.”

Such trips, to supplement what the club offers on-site, are crucial to developing well-rounded children, Ellis said. “Experiences we can provide the kids within the neighborhood aren’t enough,” he said. “We need to get them out into the larger community and beyond. ... We have kids who haven’t seen snow, or the ocean.”

Taking children on such trips depends on parental participation, Ellis said. Families that have children in Boys & Girls Clubs are expected to have a responsible adult to contribute a minimum of one hour a week of volunteer time. That can be a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, even an adult sibling.

“Is it a challenge? Absolutely,” Ellis said. “There’s always someone who can come up with something better to do.”

Maurice Johnson’s mother, Sarah, serves on the club’s parent advisory council and said she likes being able to see what her children are doing. Since being in the club, her son is “more open, more friendly, a lot more confident. He has a variety of friends here.”

Her 16-year-old daughter, Jamila, who’s in the Keystone Club, also has thrived in the Boys & Girls Club, Johnson said. “She opens up a lot more, talks a lot, expresses her voice – a lot,” she said, smiling.

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

Upcoming fundraisers

Steak and Burger: A Celebration of Youth

March 9, 6 to 8 p.m. Somerset Middle School, 1037 Floyd Ave.

Kids are served steak and adults get burgers. Tickets are $500, which buys a table for six, joined by four club members.

As of Friday, 30 tables remained; to buy, go to bgcstanislaus.org/stknbrgr.


Posh for a Purpose: Traveling to Success fashion show

March 20, 2 to 4 p.m., Peterson Event Center, 720 12th St.

Light refreshments and beverages will be served. A table for eight is $500, individual tickets are $25.

To learn more, contact Carrie Cardoza Bordona at 209-581-2274 or carrie@gocardoza.com, or visit www.facebook.com/bgcstan.

Getting involved

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County needs adult volunteers “to bring a whole host of skills, from coaching to something as simple as sharing their life stories,” said President and CPO Lincoln Ellis. It also could use the help of professionals to do health and dental exams and support its nutritional program. Anyone who can help is asked to contact Carrie Bleau, volunteer coordinator, at 209-222-5826 or cbleau@bgcstan.org.

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