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Boys & Girls Club saves East Side program

Post by Kathleen Merryman / The News Tribune on April 9, 2010 at 1:02 pm with 3 Comments »
April 9, 2010 1:02 pm

There’s good news on Tacoma’s East Side: The Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound has found a way to continue its programs there.
During the next school year it will operate in classrooms and a gym leased from Bethlehem Baptist Church at 4818 E. Portland Ave.
The news that the Boys & Girls Club is closing its East Side branch at East 64th Street and McKinley Avenue was a gut-punch to the neighborhood.
Sure, the building’s old. East Siders raised the money and donated their construction skills to build it 50 years ago. They did it so their kids would have a safe place to take part in sports and learn how to become valuable members of the community.
In building that gift, they taught by example, and that example still has the weight of ownership.
That’s part of the reason residents were so shocked when the Boys & Girls leaders announced in January that they would be closing the club and selling the property. The building has problems, and donations are down, the non-profit announced. The money, programs and kids would go to the Henry T. Schatz Branch at the Donald G. Topping Regional HOPE Center at 3911 S. 66th St. That center, four miles away and across Interstate 5, is due to open in September.
The closure plan was an epic bad move.
To the Boys & Girls Club’s credit, its leaders figured that out pretty quickly. They dropped back, listened and got an ear full of lava.
The anger they faced was a reflection of the good the club has done on the East Side,.
“The East Side Boys & Girls Club is an icon in the East Side community,” said Sector 4 Lt. Bart Hayes. “It has helped countless kids stay away from gangs, drugs and other problems. It has also helped point our youth to productive careers within the community.”
That icon’s roof and heating system may be dicey, but the club houses quality programs for 150 kids.
When you consider how much one gang-banger costs in terms of theft, damage, injuries, court and prison costs, the club has saved Pierce County taxpayers millions.
When you consider how many kids made it through school and into college or jobs because they had a safe place and trusted advisors, the savings are beyond measure.
The announcement had an insult element, too. Residents were offended that they’re losing their club so the organization can sell it to help the costs of a new center across town. Though the organization said it would provide after-school transportation, parents would be responsible for picking their children up in the evening.
Under the new plan, some First Creek Middle School kids will still take an afternoon bus to the Hope Center, said Mark Starnes, Boys & Girls Clubs president and CEO. So will students from Baker, Giaudrone and Stewart middle schools and Arlington, Boze, Fawcett, Fern Hill, Larchmont, Lyon, Manitou, Reed, Whitman, Edison, Mann and Whittier elementaries
But, Starnes conceded, the East Side kids who need the club the most are the ones whose parents are least ready, willing or able to drive to South Tacoma to pick them up.
The new plan will give thos kids better access to the services they need.
There’s a poetry to the arrangement with Bethlehem Baptist Church.
In 2002, its congregation built its Family Life Center with the intention of partnering with the Department of Social and Health Services to provide youth services, said Pastor Freeman Rhoades.
“We had a strong interest in providing after-school programs for students in the area, which would involve having them come to our Family Life Center,” he said. “We would be  providing a meal, helping them with homework and in areas of weakness.”
There would be sports, music and arts, he said.
“We had not been successful in getting these programs going,” Rhoades said.
The agreement with the Boys & Girls Club will turn their intentions into reality. In September, after the old club house closes, kids from First Creek Middle School and Blix, Lister, McKinley, Roosevelt and Sheridan elementary schools will have access to the programs at Bethlehem Baptist.
“It’s fantastic,” Starnes said. “We will be able to serve about 100 more kids there.”
It was a rough road, but the result is worth the bumps.
“Everything about this says it will be a productive long-term collaboration,” Starnes said. “It’s still a change, and change takes work. We will be listening to our parents.”
The first thing he’ll hear, as news spreads that the Boys & Girls Club has a new home on the East Side, will be a collective, “Thank you.”

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. witchiwoman says:

    All RIGHT! Way to go! I’m so glad it is staying where it’s needed the most. Way to go, eastsiders!

  2. chillmama says:

    So glad that the Boys and Girls club worked this out. This is definately a benefit to the community. I was very concerned before, but it looks like this will work. Only thing is the middle schoolers from Stewart and such will still be bussed aross town, IF their parents can pick them up. BUT something is better than nothing. I’m glad the feelings community was taken into consideration.

  3. Why dont they use gault middle school it has a gym already with a pool ? it also has football field, baseball field, and parking..

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