Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat celebrates 10th birthday with sold-out bash
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s 11 a.m. Monday, and a softer, kinder version of dodgeball is about to start at the old school gym fronting Eighth Street in downtown Steamboat Springs.
At the whistle, a dozen children sprint to a row of colorful balls. One little girl picks up two balls — one for herself — and one for her more timid friend who remained at the starting line.
Laughter and shouting rise up as kids “take out” their opponents. Welcome to the Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat Springs, which celebrates its 10th birthday this summer.
“What’s most amazed me is the amount of kids they can handle and juggle and still keep it flowing,” said Director Kristen Weese, who took over the Steamboat Springs club just seven months ago.
Weese, who has worked with children for 25 years, guides visitors through dodgeball, the art room and into the computer room. More than 20 other kids are typing up a storm on the camp’s computers as junior staff help them navigate.
The Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Colorado serves Craig and Steamboat Springs, with Craig opening its doors in 2004 and Steamboat opening in 2009. The clubs host kids age 6 to 14, while some teens return so they can volunteer or even work for the program.
During its first summer, Steamboat’s club saw 100 kids walk through the door. It now serves about 140 kids a week during the summer and about 120 kids a week during the school year.
Club leaders said young Sofia Scherff-Zamora represents all that is great about the Boys & Girls Club. The 11-year-old will be telling her story at Thursday’s sold-out “Be Great Bash,” the club’s biggest fundraiser of the year that is being at Steamboat Resort’s Four Points Lodge.
Sofia has been coming to the club for five years, and when a new little girl arrived recently from North Africa, she immediately “adopted” the newcomer.
“She doesn’t understand English and she kinda feels scared,” Sofia said. “When I first came to the Boys & Girls Club, I was scared too, because I couldn’t speak English that well. It must really be hard for her.”
Thanks to a partnership with the Steamboat Springs School District, the Boys & Girls Club has managed to stay in the same building for 10 years, said Executive Director Dana Duran from her main office in Craig.
The Steamboat club opened the new Mary Brown Teen Center last year for 11- to 14-year-olds. It has new couches, new Chromebooks and a homey new kitchen and bar area where kids are encouraged to sit down and chat with professional staff. The kids have nicknamed the Teen Center, “The Attic.”
“We hired a full-time teen director, which we haven’t been able to do before,” Duran said. “She just finished her first year with the club, and she’s wonderful.”
Sure enough, the new teen director was playing a lively game of Clue with a few 12-year-olds while others played pingpong or cards in different corners.
“I love this age group,” said Teen Director Meghan Barrett. “They’re at such a monumental age, and I get to play a part in helping them figure out who they are. I love being that mentor and that person.”
Barrett, who has taught children all over the world, said community support of the Boys & Girls Club is key to its success. She said the club offers extra field trips like golfing, photography, snowmobiling and hiking, often at discount prices, but her goal as teen director is to raise more money to make these experiences available to everyone.
Molly and Kendall are two 12-year-olds who have been attending Boys & Girls Club since they were 6.
“I might want to work here in high school or college,” Molly said. “I think I would like to give kids the experience we had.”
Meanwhile, back at the computer lab, recent high school graduate Nicole Hernandez-Cruz is helping young Jesus at his computer. She said the Boys & Girls Club helped her through anger issues when she was younger and now she runs a Leadership in Training program as a junior staff member.
“I think it’s going amazing,” Hernandez-Cruz said. “I’m really surprised how many kids signed up for it.”
In fact, she said some of her students may be referred to as “troubled” by some folks, but the confident young woman said she doesn’t use those kind of words.
“I wanted to do something more than come to work and boss kids around,” Hernandez-Cruz said. “I assign them to rooms to help staff. They’re now helping other kids. They’re like our eyes and ears. They’re amazing kids.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Colorado gets 35% of its funding from fundraisers, 35% from grants, 20% from individuals and 10% from member dues and fees.
Visit http://www.bgcnews.org for more information about the Boys & Girls Club.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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