Molly Matava was among the first kids who went to the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County 10 years ago. Like others who came behind her, going to the club changed her life.
“The club influenced my life a lot,” said Matava, who was struggling with self-esteem and depression at the time. “I was definitely a kid that didn’t have a lot of friends, and I was bullied a lot. Having the club to be a place where I could go and be safe and be who I wanted to be made me who I am today, and made me want to continue to go.”
September marks the 10th anniversary of the club, which serves more than 1,000 local youths between the ages of 6 and 18 each year through after-school, summer and outreach programs.
The club strives to provide a safe and fun space that kids can call their own, while being inspired to become productive members of society, said CEO Vaughn Morris.
The idea for the club began to germinate in 2005.
“An individual named Kip Koso was really the driving force behind the club,” Morris said. “He helped put together a committee and worked with the county to acquire the building.”
Morris joined the team in July 2007, two months before the club opened.
“For me, it was a homecoming,” he said because he grew up in Aztec and graduated from Fort Lewis College.
Right person, right messageMorris had worked at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center in Farmington, and the experience helped him prepare to lead the Boys & Girls Club in Durango.
“These people were either getting out and going right back in, or being sent away for a long time,” he said. “It is an interesting dynamic working there because you see people at their worst, but they also become more human because you see them every day.”
Morris saw a pattern between the two places.
“What I saw right away was the same dynamic with those kids that I saw on the adult end at the detention center,” he said. “If you have the right person at the right time with the right message, it really resonates with kids.”
For 20 years, Morris has worked with Boys & Girls Clubs across the West, including overseeing five clubs in the Phoenix metro area. Before joining the new Durango club, he oversaw a new club in Prescott, Arizona.
“I made some mistakes, but I was better prepared for the second go-around,” he said.
A 2017 report conducted by the club shows that every day more than 8,000 kids and teens in La Plata County leave school with the risk of being unsupervised and unsafe.
“The hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are crucial because it’s when kids are most likely to make bad choices because their parents aren’t around,” Morris said. “The club is a safe place for kids to go after school and in the summer.”
The club has 573 members and serves 1,243 kids, of which 62 percent are in elementary school and 38 percent are teens and tweens. Twenty-five percent identify as a minority.
In any given year, Morris said the club offers kids 25 to 30 different programs that focus on academic success, good character and healthful lifestyle choices. The academic programs help kids get their homework done. Healthful lifestyle programs keep kids active, with the goal of reducing childhood obesity.
Good character and citizenship programs focus on getting kids involved in community service projects.
“It can be as simple as a club cleanup, where they pick up all the trash. Or they gather nonperishables for the food bank or Manna. When kids volunteer, they are less likely to break the law, get incarcerated and be in the system,” Morris said.
A low-cost membershipAn annual membership to the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County is $15. That cost has remained consistent since the club’s formation in 2007.
“We are able to keep costs low through the efforts of the board and the community to generate those resources through grants, fundraising and individual giving campaigns,” Morris said. “Every year, we are raising that money to provide those services.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of America is a national organization with local chapters. BGCA is tax-exempt and partially funded by the federal government.
As of 2012, Boys & Girls Clubs of America served about 4 million youths at 4,074 facilities.
“Philosophically, we don’t ever want costs to be a burden to any kids or families who want to participate,” Morris said. “It will always be affordable so that all kids have the option to join.”
The low membership cost means the club has financial gaps to fill to remain functional.
The club’s annual budget is about $600,000, Morris said. Forty to 50 percent of that budget comes from federal and statewide grants and foundations. The rest comes from local organizations and individuals.
Morris said there is a misconception that most of the club’s budget comes from the federal government.
“That is not where most of our money is coming from,” he said. “We are looking much more close to home to support our own.”
The club has four full-time employees and six to 15 part-time employees. The number of employees fluctuates during the summer months when the club is open longer. Morris said the club also has about 50 volunteers.
More activities for teensFor six years, Jeff Dupont, vice chairman of the board of directors, has been involved with the club.
His three children used the club at different points in their lives, either as summer camp or volunteering.
Dupont said it is vital to have options for after-school programming for kids in small towns such as Durango.
“When there are not organized activities going on through the school, kids are limited to what they can do in Durango,” he said. “We all know that can sometimes lead to unproductive behavior. The club is affordable, and there are no financial barriers to get in. One-parent households and low-income households really benefit from having this option.”
Dupont said he is looking forward to extending activities for the club’s teens.
“We have everyone in the same location right now,” he said. “The kids are all sharing one facility. We are thinking of creative ways to get teens out of the building and doing things they enjoy.”
Matava, one of the first kids to attend the club, had difficulty believing the positive feedback she received from staff members when she attended as a kid. But having the life skills she learned helped her as a volunteer program specialist at the club this summer, and she earned the distinction of 2017 Club Youth of the Year.
“You get to have that same impact on them that someone else had on you years before,”she said.