A day in the park with the Boys and Girls Club, Prineville Branch
- Pamplin Media
- Central Oregonian - Features
>The Boys and Girls Club will be staggering their home base between Carey Foster Hall and Ochoco Creek Park over the next six weekThe Boys and Girls Club, Prineville Branch, has had its ups and downs over the four years of its existence _ including a number of location changes and losing a bid for a new building with the school district.
The Prineville Branch began in a set of rooms in a Crook County Middle School. The Club started with a membership of about 75 and during the ensuing years has grown to serve over 300 youth.
The Club moved from a remodeled auto garage on Court Street to Carey Foster Hall last July where they have continued to blossom and grow. Gaining national attention as host for the organization's national fine arts exhibit this last year, the Prineville branch continues to make strides in offering services to youth while making a name for itself.
The struggles, and triumphs as well, have only left the staff and local members more committed to the program, and perhaps even better able to meet challenges.
Take for instance, the next six weeks where the club will be operating on a flexible schedule stationed either at Ochoco Creek Park or at their `home base' at Carey Foster Hall on the fairgrounds.
The Boys and Girls Club found themselves semi-homeless recently due to the fact that Carey Foster Hall is relegated to seasonal functions including the Rock Hound Pow Wow and the Crook County Fair.
Although the club has anticipated sharing their space with seasonal events, they hadn't anticipated that there would be no building to house them temporarily.
"Basically we were unable to find a facility. We researched schools, there was not one school available due to remodeling or ongoing programs," said Gwen Reis, club director. "We researched empty commercial property and offered to do an in-kind donation where they could use us as a tax write off, that didn't work out. We tried churches, but they are pretty much full up with their own youth activities and Bible school. So, finally it came down to the fact that Boys and Girls Clubs just don't shut down _ then we go to parking lots or parks."
Reis added that Parks and Recreation doesn't normally open up the park area for use over an extended period of time. However, considering that the Boys and Girls club will be stationed at the park on a staggered schedule, the arrangement was agreed to.
Over the next six weeks, when Carey Foster Hall is occupied with another activity, the Boys and Girls Club will be stationed at Ochoco Creek Park, centered at the covered area.
"We are just so grateful to Parks and Rec - I just can't say that enough. They have bent over backwards to accommodate us and we're excited about that," she said. A partnership between the two organizations has developed as a result. "We'll be doing some service work for the parks in exchange for letting us use the space. Leadership, Keystone and Torch Club kids will be doing some painting and we're also talking about doing a peace garden with youth."
Staff have rallied to meet the challenge of operating outdoors with creativity and enthusiasm, and the kids seem to only be enjoying the added opportunities to be outdoors.
The biggest impact to families is that when the club is based at the park, the opening time is 11:30 a.m. rather than 8:30 a.m., making it difficult for parents who need to drop off children on the way to work. However, Reis is certain that families will adapt and once this hurdle is overcome, the club anticipates smooth sailing at Carey Foster Hall.
With six moves under their belt since 1997, the local club looks to the future with hopes of stability.
"It looks like in the fall we're going to have Carey Foster Hall," she said. "In the near future this issue of schedule changes, closures and facilities is actually going to be behind us. Out of the entire Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Oregon, the Prineville branch has had the most struggle in finding a facility."
"We're going to have a total of eight staff members this summer, and when we start spreading out to use all of the awesome facilities here at the park including the baseball field, the swimming pool, the volleyball court and the skate park, there's a lot of ways to keep kids busy. Like I told parents, just view it as a club without walls. As far as professionalism and activities offered - there will still be four to six activities offered per hour including field trips.
"We'll actually be able to offer a more diverse program than we do when we're in a building," she said.
Already the club has 300 members signed up for the summer program, the same number that they ended with last year. Typically, the number of members escalates over the season, and Reis anticipates as many as 100 more member sign ups over the next few weeks.
"Had we stayed in a normal facility, I would have expected to start up with 400-450 club members. At first I thought this might hurt us, but as we go along, it doesn't look like it will."
Reis also took the opportunity to announce that the Boys and Girls Club has lowered the minimum age requirement from 8 to 6 making it possible for younger kids to participate. Programs will be age appropriate as well as inclusive.
"By lowering the age requirement we are thinking about serving our community and meeting the needs of families," she explained. "We know studies show how important it is for younger kids to be mentored, and have positive relationships with older kids, because they learn more quickly from peers than they do from adults. It's also equally important for the younger kids to comfortable participating at their own age level. We anticipate both situations for our new younger members."
For more information about the Boys and Girls Club or to sign up for the summer program call the club at 416-8839 or 408-6544.