From basketball to art, opportunities abound.
By Patrick Winderl
They arrive by the busload, often more than 100 of them, smiling and bundled up against the cold, kids who have come to enjoy the after-school activities at the Boys & Girls Club.
The facility, located in the former Devlin School, plays host to a variety of programs available to students ages 6 to 18. The kids can play games, do homework, perform community service, and do arts and crafts.
"I come here every day. My favorite things are foosball, air hockey and pool," said Morgan Pitsch, a second-grader at Lincoln-McKinley School.
Twin sisters Morgan and Tori Mazurkiewicz painted pumpkins together on Wednesday. Tori said she likes "air hockey and playing puzzles."
Morgan added, "We fight sometimes, but I love her a lot."
The Mazurkiewicz twins, one of six sets of twins who are club members, wear T-shirts with their names on the back to help staff members tell them apart.
And so it goes at the Boys & Girls Club, opened by the HELP Committee to provide a positive and fun place for Hi-Line kids to go.
Since it opened on July 1, the club has had an average of 102 kids a day use the facility. The club has more than 480 members.
"Our initial goal was to have 200 kids sign up," club director Krista Solomon said. "As you can see, we have greatly exceeded that goal."
Brothers Jimmy and Donald Cox both participated in activities Wednesday. Donald, a student at Havre Middle School, was busy helping clean the Game Room while Jimmy, a third-grader, painted a pumpkin. Jimmy said that he didn't want to give his pumpkin a face because "I want it to be different." He proceeded to paint it bright purple.
The Game Room, known as the heart of the club, has pool tables, an air hockey machine and a foosball table. The club has frequent tournaments that give kids a chance to win prizes. There is also a snack bar and a game station. Students use their membership cards to check out assorted board games.
Adjacent to the Game Room is the Tech Lab. Nine computers are available for kids to use. The computers were purchased from Havre Public Schools.
The club is working with Microsoft to acquire an update for the lab, which is expected in June 2003. The update will include 15 workstations with state-of-the-art equipment. The new computers will have Internet access. Students will be required to pass the Netsmart program before they are allowed online. Netsmart is used in Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide, and teaches Internet safety and prevention measures.
Located in the gym across the hall is the Health and Fitness Center, used primarily for recreation. On Tuesday, a two-on-two basketball tournament was in progress.
The club is also in the process of creating some programs that teach fitness and nutrition.
Another activity area, the Music and Performing Arts Center, is expected to be open within six weeks. Solomon said the club is looking for volunteers to help with the renovation needed to get the facility up and running.
"We could really use people to donate some musical instruments," she said.
The Arts and Crafts Center is popular with some of the older students. It offers classes on sewing, nutrition and cooking. Solomon said the center attracts a lot of volunteers who teach various arts and crafts projects. The room is also used for bingo.
Club members also have the opportunity to work on homework. Power Hour is the center for kids who choose to work on school assignments. The facility has three computers with Internet access that is restricted to research.
Kids are given an incentive to work on academics: They receive points that can be redeemed for prizes. Students log their time spent in Power Hour on cards which keep track of how long they do homework. Kids receive one point for every fifteen minutes they participate in Power Hour, and five points for each time they bring a report card to a staff member. They also receive points for playing educational games like Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. On Fridays, they can use their points to purchase prizes which range from stickers and pencils to candy and toys.
Much of the volunteer work performed at the Boys and Girls Club is done in Power Hour. College and high school students seeking community service credits assist younger students with homework and oversee use of the computers.
The room is also used on Family Night, an event that welcomes parents and younger siblings to enjoy the facility. Families are able to play board games and spend time together. A karaoke machine has quickly escalated in popularity. Family Night is offered from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM on various nights throughout the year.
The Nature and Science Center is another educational facility offered by the club. Recent projects in the center have included building a hovercraft, growing a salad, and making rootbeer and ice cream. They have also built a scale model of the solar system, which hangs from the ceiling.
The Teen Center is devoted entirely to teenagers. It also has pool tables, and other activities that are geared towards older students. It is the only center in the club where kids are allowed to interact without a staff member present. Students must pass the "Smartmoves" program before they are allowed to use the room. Currently, the Teen Center is open only on Tuesday and Thursday, and occasionally at night. Nine students have passed "Smartmoves", and an additional twelve are expected to pass in the next several weeks.
The club employs 5 fulltime and 3 part-time staff members, and has fifteen people on the Board of Directors. Each staff member must pass an extensive background check.
The Boys and Girls Club has been active in Havre since 1979, but it was not until last year that funding became available to establish the current facility. Executive Director Robin Morris said that the club has a very diverse funding base. The Office if Juvenile Prevention provided the startup fund. The money was used to cover some minor renovations and purchase pool tables and computers.
"So many people have invested in this program. It's phenomenal... We have used individual donations, civic fundraising, and state and federal grants." Morris said Wednesday. "So many people in this community have helped out. The Board of Directors were especially instrumental in this process. They really pulled together and carried the ball."
Morris said that future funding would "establish a legacy for the future. We love what we do."
The Boys and Girls Club has operated under various titles since its conception in 1860. It uses the Youth Development Strategy to "promote the development of young people by instilling a sense of competence, a sense of usefulness, a sense of belonging, and a sense of power or influence".
Anyone with questions about Boys and Girls Club can call 265-6206.