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Behind The Boys And Girls Club Boom

September 5, 2013, 10:00 PM by Hailey Higgins

Behind The Boys And Girls Club Boom
BROOKINGS, SD -

Expansions are underway in Brookings and Moody County to meet the need of growing Boys and Girls Clubs.

The clubs educate and supervise thousands of children during after-school programs.

At the Boys and Girls Club in Brookings, 13-year-old Melqui Vasquez enjoys a Friday afternoon with friends.

“I just love coming here,” he said.

The 9th grader has come to the club since he first started school and says the program's played a big role in his life. In fact, he credits the teachers at the club for his 4.0 grade point average.

"If I hadn't come to the club, I wouldn't be so successful in my academics," Vasquez said.

Vasquez is one of 1,600 children coming to the program each year. And as school lets out, the line to get in here is out the door.

In the last ten years, the Brookings organization saw unparalleled growth in the community. When it first started, 17 kids came each day; last month, nearly 400 kids.

"I think it is a testament to the community and to the programming and to the staff that we have at the Boys and Girls Club," Corporate Board Member Reece Kurtenbach said. "It all works together to show success and that drives more interest in what else we could do."

But the rapid success is creating problems. Within one year of moving into this new building in 2007, participation reached full capacity in the 37,000 square foot space.

This early childhood group is forced to meet on the stage to make room for more students. Even closets are used as classrooms. Now administration is breaking ground to expand and better meet the needs of Brookings youth.

"We serve kids who need us most," Executive Director Vanessa Morhib said. "Sometimes for some kids that is maybe lunch or a healthy snack, for other kids that just might be a high-five in the gym. And for some kids, like my kids that come, it might be homework help."

The expansion will house the teens across the street from the current location. The $4 million project is slated to be finished next summer. But Brookings isn't the only club out growing its building.

The Moody County Boys and Girls Club in Flandreau is also breaking ground on a $2 million expansion. Director of Development Rachel Schaefer says they've seen their numbers double in six years.

"Right now we are in a one room space and so you can definitely feel it," Schaefer said. "It's wonderful to have that many kids there every single day but we are ready to expand and have different program space for our kids to utilize."

Since 2007, the club has had five homes ranging from a school to a National Guard armory to a tribal building.

"I know the kids can't wait, I think they are the ones who are absolutely most excited and they've had the opportunity to go over and see where we will be building. They've seen the building plans and they just can't believe what they're getting," Schaefer said.

Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Vanessa Merhib says the growth is attributed to a blend between a high-quality staff, supportive community and positive activities after school.

"At the end of the day, every child that walks through our door, leaves at the end of the night a different person, a better person, and if they've come in our doors, we want to create hope and opportunity," Merhib said.

And with the large number of children walking through these doors every day, there is also hope and opportunity for the Boys and Girls Club to continue impacting lives, like Vasquez.

"The club is awesome and I don't know where I would be without it," Vasquez said.

Each membership is $20-a year for a child. Most of the operations budget is made up of donations from individuals, businesses, city government and non-profit organizations.

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