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Boys & Girls Clubs runs 27 sites, sees a thousand kids daily

The past year has been a wild ride for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties.

The nonprofit took over the Richland School District’s before- and after-school child care program in June 2018. This meant more sites, children, staff and a bigger budget to manage.

It also occurred while the nonprofit was in the middle of preparing to open a new $5.1 million clubhouse in Kennewick.

Thrown together, the two projects have kept Brian Ace, executive director of the clubs, and his staff hopping.

“It’s been quite a lot of growth,” Ace said.

Welcome to Richland

The Pasco-based agency earned the Richland program’s contract when the school district asked for proposals in May 2018. Only the Boys & Girls Clubs and Champions—which previously had held the contract—submitted proposals.

The school district liked the Boys and Girls Clubs’ proposal better.

The contract from the Richland School District was approved at the July school board meeting.

Ace and his staff went into overdrive.

“The budget went from $3.4 million to $5.8 million,” Ace said. “A lot had to do with payroll.”

Ace said staff numbers jumped from 80 to 150 with the addition of the 12 sites in Richland, the club’s first foray into the city.

“The contract was awarded in mid-June of 2018, and we had a challenge,” Ace said. “We had a six-week window to open 10 school-age sites (with two preschools). But the staff did an amazing job.”

Ace and his leadership team met weekly to keep things on task and to assemble the workforce.

“Fortunately, Champions had a lot of good people working for them, and we hired a lot of them,” Ace said.

Ace said results from a recent parent satisfaction survey showed “they were pleased with the flexibility and quality of the child care,” he said.

In normal years, Ace said the nonprofit would grow by one site a year in the Mid-Columbia.

“Doing 12 is a much bigger lift,” he said. “Average daily attendance (in Richland) was about 350.”

New Kennewick clubhouse

Meanwhile, the Kennewick clubhouse opened in January.

Called the Eerkes Family Branch, it’s a 23,000-square-foot building at 910 W. Seventh Place.

It’s named after capital chairpersons Craig and Marilee Eerkes. The couple and their family were instrumental in fundraising for the new facility.

“They assembled a team filled with corporate people,” Ace said. “They are a couple passionate about kids. This was very much a labor of love for them.”

The $5.1 million project was fueled through public and private donations from local individuals and businesses.

“It was a local grassroots effort,” Ace said. “Actually they raised $6.1 million, so we had security upgrades.”

The Game Room serves as the “spoke of the hub” for the building, said Luke Hallowell, branch director.

Summer hours are 1-5 p.m. During the school year, it’s open later.

Off to one side is a smaller Learning Center, where kids can work in a quieter environment to write stories, play chess, solve puzzles or read. Next door is an art center with plenty of supplies.

The Tech Club features 19 computers. Kids can work on coding or robotics, play Minecraft, or flex their STEM learning muscles.

The kitchen abuts the Game Room and has a multipurpose room next to it that can be used as a dining area, karaoke club, or a place to hold ping-pong or four-square tournaments.

The kitchen team serves lunch and dinner to about 90 kids a day, Hallowell said.

This is important, Ace said. “In the six square blocks around the Kennewick building, there are 1,000 kids who are 98 percent qualified for the reduced lunch program,” Ace said.

At one end of the building sits the nonprofit’s only full-size gymnasium.

“We have an athletic director,” Hallowell said. “We play a lot of basketball, soccer, tag, lacrosse, hockey, volleyball and flag football in here.”

In addition, a Club Discovery preschool— run by a private entity—is housed in the building.

On the north end of the building is the Teen Room. “It’s designed for older kids to be older kids,” Hallowell said. 

It includes a pool table, leadership development room, personal development room, foosball table, Nintendo and PlayStation consoles, and a store that sells Italian sodas, snacks and chips.

“We wanted to serve more teens than we do at our other clubs,” Ace said. “So we made the shift in our focus to serve teens here. At our other clubs, it’s about 25 percent teens. Here, it’s about 50 percent teens.”

The clubhouse is tucked into a corner adjacent to numerous apartment complexes.

“It serves the most diverse neighborhood in the Tri-Cities,” Ace said. “This is the most diverse clubhouse we’ve seen.”

But Ace added that the slow growth of kids coming has been a surprise.

“We get about 110 to 120 kids here a day. We could do 220,” Hallowell said. “We’ve registered almost 500 members.”

So Ace and his staff reached out to families in the surrounding area.

“Some of them told us, ‘It looked so nice, we didn’t know it was for us. We thought it was for other kids,’ ” Ace said.

There are play areas outside on the property too.

Altogether, the new location employs four full-timers and nine part-timers.

The footprint, what’s next

Since 1995, when the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties started, the nonprofit’s growth has been slow and steady—up until the last year.

With the addition of 12 Richland sites and the Kennewick club, the nonprofit now operates 27 sites for kids ages 0-18 around the region:

  • Four traditional clubs – two in Pasco, one in Prosser and the new one in Kennewick.
  • School-based clubs – six in Pasco, eight in Richland and two in West Richland.
  • Club Discovery preschools – two in Pasco, one in Kennewick and two in Richland.
  • Nurseries – one each in Richland, Kennewick and Pasco.
  • A Specialty Club – the Music and Arts Center in Kennewick.

The coming year’s game plan for Ace and his staff may not be as extreme as last year’s.

The leadership team would like to fine-tune the additions made in the past 12 months. “Membership growth is there,” Ace said. 

Average daily attendance to all buildings last year was 700 kids. 

This year, it’s 1,200, thanks to the new sites in Richland, West Richland and Kennewick.

Ace said he’s learned a few things.

“For 20 years, we’ve expanded in a reactive way,” he said. “We’d see an area needed help, and we’d react to it. It’s time to be proactive. And we’re going to make it happen.”

One area the clubs’ teams will concentrate on is child safety and program quality.

“The board also has a commitment to reinvest by bringing in some more leadership,” Ace said. “And we’re going to keep doing some community needs assessment. So the board is demonstrating the desire to be proactive.”

In a community of about 300,000 people, Ace said there is more to do to help people in need.

“I think we’ve been surprised about the severity of those challenges,” he said.

Also coming up is the clubs’ annual corporate fundraiser event, Dinner with Friends, which features Shaun White, a three-time Olympic gold medalist known for his snowboarding and skateboarding prowess. It’s Nov. 7 at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

Though the event is open to the public, most of the tables are corporate sponsored. Tables for eight cost $1,500. Individual tickets are $200 each.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties: 2110 W. Henry St., Pasco; greatclubs.org; 509-543-9980.

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