SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
In the early 2000s, a number of community members looked around and realized there was a gaping hole in services for middle school-aged students.
“We had, and still have, the issue of what we do with them from 4 to 6 p.m., which is when they tend to make the worst decisions,” said Chief Professional Officer Vaughn Morris of the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County. “Where are they while parents are working?”
Their answer was to open the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County, which took place after a significant capital campaign and remodeling project of the old Armory next to the Durango Community Recreation Center. The club, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, is open after school during the week and offers a full-time summer camp.
Looking for a place to grow
Club membership has continued steady growth, from 162 members at the end of the first year to 531 registered members this year.
The big challenge facing the club is space. The club is conducting a study to see if it should consider a space dedicated to teenagers.
“We’re kind of assuming the needs assessment will indicate there is a need to serve them,” BGC board of directors Chairman Pat Barrett said. “We’ll be talking about what that’s going to look like and how we’ll put that in place starting in the next six months or so.”
Factors to consider are location, transportation and proximity to schools, he said.
“We’re in the perfect location now,” Morris said. “But we can’t expand the footprint. We can’t go up, and we can’t go out, and we’re nearing capacity as it is.”
Morris said there is no intention to leave the current building at this time, so additional space probably is what the club would be seeking.
“In the meantime, Vaughn has tweaked the programming for the older students,” Barrett said. “He has added some evening hours and works to keep it interesting, keep it engaging, including a mentorship program.”
Reaching out in new ways
“We’re the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County,” Barrett said. “We’ve been looking at what other areas we can serve, not just that age bracket and not just in Durango. Bayfield obviously comes to mind.”
The club’s staff has been seeing what the need is in Bayfield by working with the town’s Early Start program.
In another outreach program, Health and Physical Education Director Herb Clark visits each of the three elementary schools in town, Needham, Riverview and Park, once a week to organize lunch and recess activities.
“I like being there,” he said, “We believe the more, the merrier, and it’s a bonus for us and the schools, too. We’re definitely getting quite a few new members from that.”
A boon for parents
The club focuses on three areas of development: academic success, character and citizenship, and healthy living.
Students can take advantage of the Power Hour, when they can get help with their homework, use a small reference library and log on to computers in the lab to do their work.
“My daughter comes home most days with her homework done,” said Meryl Lowe, the mother of 9-year-old Aubrey Lowe. “I’m a single mom, so that has helped me tremendously, too. I would wholeheartedly recommend the Boys & Girls Club to any parent.”
La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker sends both her sons to the club.
“As a full-time working mother, I don’t know how I would do it without them,” she said. “I would be lost without them. And my boys love Boys & Girls Club. My 13-year-old can’t wait to get there every day.”
But it’s not all studying.
“They’re in school all day,” Morris said. “We make this an opportunity to be a kid first and make sure it’s fun, because you’re only a kid once.”
Office manager Megan Farr has watched the club and the kids develop.
“One of the best things is just watching them grow up. Some who were in the fourth or fifth grade when we started are now in high school, and I hear them talking about girlfriends and going to college.”
Most of the kids who attend Boys & Girls Club don’t know or care about a fifth anniversary or what the adults are planning for the future.
Life goes on, and there’s never a dull moment.
Noah DeDear, 13, will continue hanging out with his friends and participating in Torch Club. Allia Connell, 6, will keep trying new things.
Both of them agree on one thing.
“It’s fun,” they said.