Any parent will tell you they need a helping hand. In Brookings that comes from an organization that doesn't turn their hand against anyone.
“It's not about a handout, it's about a hand up. So every child that walks through our door, they have an opportunity,” Brookings Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Vanessa Merhib said.
This year marks the ninth year of the Brookings Boys and Girls Club. The organization services nearly 400 children a day, but its membership roster tops 1300.
Mom LaRee Buskohl says it took just one visit and she was hooked.
“We always try to make our kids be the greatest and do whatever they can, but as a parent, kids are kids. They do what they want to,” Buskohl said.
Buskohl says the club helps provide her support. It also gives all children, not just hers, a safe space to continue to learn, play and grow after the last school bell rings each day.
“I'm very fortunate because my kids have had a lot of opportunities here and I've got three of them,” Buskohl said.
“We have to be fun. It's a positive place. It's a fun place. And then we educate them, make them healthier and good people at the same time,” Merhib said.
Merhib says that's what keeps all these kids coming back.
And the children agree.
“It's fun here everyday because they do different projects. And my favorite thing is to go into the ed room,” club member Rayonna Highbear said.
You’ll find nine-year-old Highbear at the club after school. She's learned many things, even crocheting. Highbear comes every day like most kids. The busiest time is right after school gets out until about six.
“I don't think we had anticipated there was this high of a need. I think that the combination of the need as well as the high performance of the club and results the club has shown, those two things together have led to the success,” Merhib said.
Merhib says the club is so popular it's time to expand. Just last week the board approved adding 20,000 square feet of space for kindergarten, pre-k and teen programming.
“At home you can do certain things. Here you can do other certain things. So it has balance to being at home,” club member Joey Gray said.
More space means more room for 11 year-old Gray and his friends. The club takes children from age 5 through 12th grade. Gray says he'll be here until he can't come any longer.
“I like to play pool, carpet ball, read, hang out with friends,” Gray said.
“To be able to come to the club for $20 per year, I mean, and the opportunity. It's amazing. It really is,” Buskohl said.
The club is open any time school is not, summer, snow, rain or shine. Apparently that's catching on, along with the quality of programming here as this Boys and Girls Club readies to break ground on an entirely new chapter in it's relatively new history.
The Brookings Boys and Girls Club also operates clubs in Flandreau and Yankton.
The Brookings club has a budget of more than a million, but only takes in about $20,000 in memberships. The rest comes from community support.
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