The enthusiasm Craig Eerkes feels for his community is unmistakable when he talks about the plan to build a new clubhouse in Kennewick for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties.
“This whole thing is to be proactive with kids,” Eerkes said, his voice filled with pride, and even awe, as he reflected on the swift and successful capital campaign which raised $3.6 million in nine weeks.
“The outpouring of support from the community is unbelievable. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
Following the advice of a consultant, the group opted to raise money quietly before announcing the construction project to the public.
Now, there’s less than $1 million remaining to reach the $4.3 million target to begin building.
Organizers of the Great Futures Tri-Cities campaign hope to close out fundraising before Oct. 20.
The groundbreaking for the new clubhouse in east Kennewick north of Park Middle School could be in the spring with the goal of opening the facility next fall.
The clubhouse would be located on land bought from the city of Kennewick. The roughly $100,000 purchase price was shared by a team of three business leaders, including Eerkes, Bill McCurley and Bill Lampson.
The land didn’t have infrastructure to access it at the time it was acquired.
Kennewick helped support the project by building roads and sidewalks.
The land lies almost smack dab in the center of a 10-block square bordered by West Fourth Avenue to the north and West Tenth Avenue to the south, Olympia Street on the west and South Garfield Street on the east.
Nine hundred school-age kids live within this area, many in low-income apartment complexes, according to the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Future success for these students is threatened by crime, housing insecurity and chronic absenteeism in school, agency officials said. By locating a clubhouse in this micro-community, the nonprofit hopes to be a resource for children who might otherwise be home alone or on the streets unsupervised.
“There are a number of communities that have not been proactive and the alternative is to be reactive,” Eerkes said. “They hire more police, they build bigger jails and the results are not positive.”
The breakneck speed in fundraising is the final piece of a three-year effort to bring the clubhouse to the community.
“This project demonstrates that we will, for the first time in our history, design and build a clubhouse to meet the needs of a strategic community,” said Brian Ace, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties. “We will work actively to address the needs present in this area, and to ensure that youth have opportunities for success regardless of the challenges they face.”
Many kids visit a Boys and Girls Club branch between 3 to 7 p.m., which is the time when school-age students are “most vulnerable to unacceptable behavior,” Eerkes said.
Kids can work on their homework, play games, do crafts, use computers and have positive interactions with adults, something often missing from their lives.
Inability to pay for access to the club is not a barrier, with middle school and high school students admitted for free, and preschool to elementary students allowed for a $20 yearly membership fee.
The school bus drops many students off at the clubhouse in the afternoon. Because of community support, the new location will be open year-round and offer child care, providing a source of revenue.
Clubs across the region are open more than 250 days a year, which covers after-school hours while school is in session and weekdays during the summer months.
Officials with the Boys and Girls Clubs report that on any given day, 700 club members walk through their doors, with an average daily attendance that has increased 30 percent since 2014.
The dream of adding a clubhouse has come closer to fruition, thanks to some unexpected gifts along the way.
Eerkes and his wife, Marilee, serve as voluntary co-chairs for the campaign effort, overseeing a cabinet of 14 people who have actively canvassed the community for donations.
Cabinet member Greg Chervenell, owner of Chervenell Construction in Kennewick, is the builder on the project and stepped up with what Eerkes described only as a “sacrificial gift” toward the $3.6 million raised.
A Coeur d’Alene architect donated the plans, using another model already designed, providing a savings of seven percent on the project. And when campaign cabinet members asked various individuals for a specific donation amount, four of the donors chose to double the amount requested instead.
Eerkes, who is president of Sun Pacific Energy, and his wife Marilee have been ardent supporters of the Boys and Girls Clubs following the death of their teen daughter, Laura, 20 years ago in a car crash.
Her passion for the nonprofit and the Young Life organization has lived on through her parents and brother through their active involvement in providing a safe, caring space for kids.
The Eerkes family is the namesake of the Eerkes Memorial Golf Classic for Kids, held yearly to support the Boys and Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties and Young Life.
Eerkes said this year’s tournament raised more than $250,000, with all but $25,000 going directly to the Boys and Girls Clubs to cover sustaining expenses. Eerkes also campaigned in favor of the Benton County public safety sales tax, which passed in 2014. A portion of the tax revenue supports youth crime prevention.
Organizers promise the new 20,000-square-foot clubhouse will serve kids and teens who need a place to go after school.
They say it will address two key points when it opens on West Seventh Avenue and South Jean Street next year: break the cycle of crime, poverty and hopelessness and offer a support system of caring adults and mentors to kids who need it most.
“I am very concerned about the need to provide kids with positive after- school activities, especially in areas of our community with large numbers of at-risk youth,” said Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick. “The Boys and Girls Club provides children and teens with not only activities, but a support system, which is vital to keeping kids away from crime, drugs and gangs.”
There are 14 Boys and Girls Clubs across Benton and Franklin counties, which serve 2,500 youth each year. It’s expected 250 youth will be served by the new Kennewick facility.
To learn more about the Great Futures Tri-Cities capital campaign or to contribute toward the effort, visit greatfuturestc.org or call 509-543-9980.
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