By Jennifer Crain
Jeannie Hanson is no stranger to the Boys & Girls Clubs. Her three children, now adults, were part of a club in Salem, Oregon for several years. Hanson says it was “absolutely awesome…a wonderful experience for all three of my kids.”
Now that she’s raising her eight-year-old grandson, Jordan, Hanson says the same is true of the Boys & Girls Club of Thurston County (BGCTC) in Tumwater.
“They played an integral part in a supportive network to [help me] raise my kids,” she says. “And that’s exactly what’s happening with Jordan.”
Hanson and her grandson attended the organization’s annual holiday dinner on December 13, along with 300 others. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County serves over 2,300 kids at four clubs, located in Lacey, Olympia, Rochester and Tumwater. Club members were invited to bring family members to the event for a meal and holiday activities to celebrate the year.
Families queued up for the traditional meal, served by area volunteers, and gathered to eat together at tables in the club’s facility on the Tumwater High School campus. After the meal, kids of all ages wove their way around the building, posing for photos with Santa, choosing a new book or making graham cracker houses. Quite a few kids sat still (for a minute) while volunteers from Jack & Jill’s Salon added a strand of tinsel to their hair or styled it into a red or green fauxhawk. Kimber Earp, the Jack & Jill’s employee who organized the salon’s involvement with the event, has been volunteering on her own with the clubs since 2002.
Long-term dedication seems standard for those involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County. Mo Young, who helped out at the Santa station on Thursday, is currently the program director at the Lacey branch and previously worked at the club in Tumwater. In all, he’s been working with kids for over ten years.
Joe Ingoglia, BGCTC Chief Executive Officer, moved into the Thurston County position in 2006 after serving as the club director in Bellingham for four years. Prior to that, he earned a degree in elementary education and worked with kids abroad.
Jeannie Hanson says that the quality of the staff contributes to the successes of the kids involved in their program.
“All aspects of Jordan’s life are connected. This isn’t separate,” she says. “He’s supported here. I love these people. I really do.”
Judging from the whoops and applause that erupted after club members performed gymnastics and hip-hop presentations on Thursday night, a lot of families love this program, too. The troupes performed in each of the large rooms, feet and hands slapping the mats, camera flashes lighting up smiling faces.
Monica Langford, director of the Tumwater branch, says all kids are involved in activities such as dance and gymnastics, healthy cooking, fine arts and sports at the Thurston County clubs. Activities fall under the organization’s core programs: character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts and sports, fitness and recreation.
“We try to offer a lot of different programs so each kid can find something they’re successful at,” Langford says. “We try to offer a wide variety of structured activities for the kids throughout the day. We really want each member to find something they enjoy doing and find something they’re successful at and like to do.”
This year there has been an increase in daily attendance, says Langford, especially at the Olympia and Rochester clubs, and an increase in the number of military families served. She says they’ve also seen “more and more kids who have basic needs that aren’t being met: warm clothes, food to eat at home, toiletries or even something comfortable to sleep on at night.”
“This time of year problems like this are especially apparent as we provide gifts for our neediest families through an Adopt-a-Family program,” says Langford. “Without programs like this some of our kids would not be able to receive anything for Christmas. At times when we ask the kids what they would like to receive, they ask for socks and underwear, or a warm coat – not even toys! We are very grateful for the help of community partners and board members who help us fundraise for this program.”
The Clubs are dedicated to making their year-round programs accessible to every child with membership rates at just $10 – $25 per year. In order to keep costs accessible to all, the clubs seek funding and sponsorships and foster positive relationships in the community, all things they’ve achieved well enough to be celebrating their eleventh year in Thurston County.
With relevant programs, affordable rates and attentive staff, Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County are paving the way for more generations of parents and caregivers to say, as Jeannie Hanson does, “The Club is making this kid great!”