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New and Improved Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line

 

August 19, 2016

When the new Memorial Fitness Park playground at the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line was being planned, the designers weren’t very interested in what the grown-ups had to say. They wanted to know what the kids who would be screaming and running and falling on the playground wanted.

They wanted a slide, but not a “baby slide,” HELP — Havre Encourages Long-range Prevention — Committee Director Krista Solomon said. The kids wanted a cave, and they got one, complete with fake lizards, mice and bats. They got a big spinning apparatus into which a mob of excited children can cram onto at once and be spun around. And they got a swing with a large seat that holds multiple kids at a time.

Club Director Tim Brurud said representatives from the firm that designed the playground, Native Stringer Landscape Studio, came out from Helena and talked to several kids, even had them draw pictures, to get an idea of what they wanted the playground to look like.

The playground was finished the week of Aug. 7.

“It’s another reason for kids to come to the club,” Brurud said of the new and improved playground.

Solomon and Resource Development Specialist Gal Phillips said it quickly became apparent that the swing, “everyone’s favorite,” needed parameters.

“Rules had to be made immediately — only two can swing at a time, and they can’t push it from both directions,” Solomon said. “They had it swinging sky high. Kids would be pushing from all directions.”

In addition to climbing and swinging apparatuses, the new playground came with nine large stock tanks, in which watermelons, squash, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots grow. The fresh produce is harvested from the raised gardens and served for lunch and dinner.

Last year, Solomon said, looking down at a sheet of paper, the Boys & Girls Club served 26,897 dinners and lunches, and 14,389 snacks. A total of 675 kids were registered last school year.

“So a lot of food comes out of that kitchen,” she said. “Everything that is harvested is used in the kitchen.”

The Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line opened its doors July 1, 2002, a few years after the Devilin elementary school had closed. Solomon said the club paid $1 for the former school building.

Solomon said the club does its own fundraising. The money comes from grants, as well as local citizens and businesses. She said the community is very supportive — $40,000 of the $140,000 needed for the playground addition came from Havre citizens and businesses.

The school year rate is $50 for a child. Every child in a family after the second is half off. During the school year, school buses usually drop kids off at the club. During the summer, the club pays North Central Montana Transit to bus kids in.

As a youth development organization, the Boys & Girls Club aims to balance fun and learning.

NetSmartz is a one of the programs offered at the club workshop. It’s an interactive, educational program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that teaches children how to be safer on- and offline.

Kids can also learn “survival cooking,” essentially lessons on how to turn the scant options in a cupboard into a tasty meal. And for those who need it, tutoring is available, as well as time to do homework.

Then there’s the fun stuff.

A recent addition in the Games Room is Carpet Ball, which is basically a long wooden box that looks like a trough. The players set up five marble balls on each side and then take turns rolling a q-ball to the other side as they try to knock all the other player’s balls back and out of play.

Solomon said the game arrived the same week the playground was finished. It was won at a Boys & Girls Club National Conference earlier this year. The game was invented after someone realized how younger kids much preferred to simply roll the balls on a pool table rather than play pool.

The Games Room also has four Xbox stations powered by exercise bikes. Once the pedaling stops, the game loses power. There are pool tables, air hockey tables and a kickboxing station, complete with speakers for sound effects when kicked.

In the STEM room — science, technology, engineering and math — an experiment involving several Ziploc bags containing a slice of wheat bread in each were laid out in the back of the room. One particular child was succeeding more than his or her colleagues, as one piece of bread was almost completely green. The others were hardly keeping up.

Phillips and Solomon said another favorite activity is playing Dance Dance Revolution in the large multipurpose room, which also serves as the cafeteria. Nobody was playing DDR Monday, but plenty of kids were sitting down and eating.

Nine-year-old Gage and his friend, 8-year-old Aidan, were eating hamburgers and telling stories.

Gage said he should be on the front page of the newspaper, “’cause I’m awesome.” When it comes to his awesomeness, Gage said a good portion of it has to do with his ability to do jumps on his dirt bike.

Gage said he likes coming to the Boys & Girls Club and the best part about the new playground is the swing. His favorite subjects in school, he said, are recess and gym.

Aidan interjected, saying recess is not a subject, to which Gage responded by pointing to the purple binky hanging around his friend’s neck. Aidan said he got the binky from a recent powwow.

Outside, kids were still playing on the playground. Solomon said more additions are in the works for the playground, including a refurbished sandbox and permanent basketball hoops to replace the portable ones. On Sept. 7 at 5:30 p.m., a barbecue dinner will be served at the club to celebrate the additions.

Eight-year-old Lily was playing with her friends. She said she goes to the Boys & Girls Club because her mom works. Her friend Sophie, 6, said she wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers.

“Stranger danger,” she said. Twice.

But she eventually changed her mind and said she would talk to strangers because she wanted to be in the newspaper.

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