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$70K grant to enable Boys & Girls Club to extend reach

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September 24, 2007

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — A recently announced $70,000 federal grant should help the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes continue its recent growth by increasing outreach to and programs for local teens, said club director Mike Reiderer last week.

The grant was part of a $1.5 million national package announced on Sept. 14 by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). It also included $310,000 to Burlington’s Boys & Girls Club.

Vergennes-area club officials and board members are still deciding how the grant will be put to use at its two School Street children’s and teens’ sites, although increasing staff hours will almost certainly be the outcome, Reiderer said.  

“Most likely it will go to staffing,” he said. “The purpose of the grant is to increase our service for the kids, to do more outreach, to reach more young people and to provide more programming. And the staff are the key to that. If you have good strong people who can get out there and build relationships with the kids, that’s what it’s all about.”

Reiderer is one of two fullt-ime employees now funded by the club’s annual budget, which has been about $170,000. That budget will be boosted to around $200,000 by the federal grant, which club officials had expected to be closer to $40,000. 

Club program director Deb Hall, who also works full-time, splits most of her hours between the club’s elementary school members and in-school drug- and alcohol-prevention programs. Kathy Ciociola and Wendy Mitchell work part-time with the 15 to 20 teens and around 40 younger children, respectively, who show up daily after school.

Reiderer said a new full-time employee could join the ranks, or an existing employee could see increased hours.

“Ideally, I think we’d have another full-time position to focus on teens,” he said.

Club officials may be hoping that the extra hours for a teen program director could duplicate what Hall’s program’s have helped do for membership at the younger level: In the past year daily attendance at the younger site, which has been in the Masonic Hall on School Street since January 2006, has roughly doubled.

Part of that increase, Reiderer said, can be attributed to the move out of the Bixby Library basement to School Street. The site is closer to Vergennes Union Elementary School, and children do not have to cross Main Street to reach it.

But Reiderer said Hall’s programs, like popular cheerleading camps and “Dinner Clubs” that have taught proper table manners, have both drawn kids and impressed parents.

“We really started seeing parents looking at the club more as a benefit to their kids rather than a babysitting service,” he said.

As well as having time to develop programs, Hall’s full-time status and work teaching prevention in the schools has given her a presence in the community. A full-timer might be able to do the same thing for the teen center, Reiderer said. 

“It’s so hard to do that for 20 hours a week when you’ve got the center open for 20 hours,” he said. “You can’t make those phone calls and get out and meet people.”

FINANCES AND SERVICES

Getting that $70,000 does not mean that the club can stop fund-raising. Of the projected $200,000 budget, another $70,000 to $80,000 will come in grants, Reiderer said, much of that from the annual United Way of Addison County campaign.

Another roughly $10,000 comes from member dues. After much debate, club officials set dues for the younger kids, who need more hands-on supervision, at $10 per week. Families receiving any state aid automatically get a 50 percent discount, and Reiderer said those who cannot afford even a reduced rate would not be turned away.

“With the $10 a week we’re looking for more investment from the parents,” he said. “We want to make sure that by bringing their kids here they weren’t just dropping them off to put them someplace for a few hours, but that they really supported the club and the services they were getting.”

About 200 teens are paying $10 a year to be members, with participation ranging from a couple dances or karaoke nights a year to daily use of the clubhouse’s two pool tables, table soccer game, Nintendo set-up, half-dozen guitars, 10 laptops and white-painted plywood movie screen.

Reiderer said officials do not want to charge more for teens.

“We don’t want to create a barrier to the teens coming. With the younger kids it is more of a care issue … It helps us with staffing,” he said.

When the dues are added into the grants, $40,000 or $50,000 still must be raised to keep the club’s doors open.

“It’s great to get a $70,000 grant, and we certainly don’t want to take away from that, but it represents only about 30 percent of our budget,” Reiderer said. “There’s still a lot more work to do.”

As well as salaries, the budget also includes rent, utilities, maintenance and insurance, plus programming.

A state grant pays for the program in the schools, which Reiderer said “takes the ‘Just Say No’ message and really puts something behind it” by teaching youths the skills they need to handle peer pressure and challenging social situations.

Examples of other club efforts include:

• The Keystone Club, a leadership program in which teens help organize club and community events and fund-raising activities.

• The Cooking for Life program for both younger kids and teens in which they learn cooking skills and nutrition.

• Fitness activities, including cheerleading, a soccer program and a dance activity using the play stations at both sites.

• Rosie’s Girls, a three-week summer camp for middle school girls in which they learn carpentry and other trade skills.

Reiderer believes the club has done well to provide as much as it has within its funding constraints.

“We’re very focused on our kids and our programs,” he said. “We like to think we’re a good value for the community,”

And Reiderer is happy to see the club still thriving eight years after it was founded. 

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “We really appreciate the support we’ve gotten.”

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