HOMER — When Monica Sallee considered moving from Ninilchik to Homer so she could end her daily commute to work at GCI, childcare for her son, Cole, and daughter, Shyanne, was a big concern. Her research revealed only one after-school option: the Boys & Girls Club.
Two years later, that option may be about to disappear for the Sallee family and more than 130 other youngsters between the ages of 6 and 17 if the Boys & Girls Club is forced to move from its current location.
When Sallee first met with Kelly Jackman, Homer clubhouse director, she was convinced the program was the right thing for her family.
“My kids had never been in a childcare situation outside the home, so it was entirely new to them,” said Sallee. “I can just see in the last two years how much both of them have grown and opened up.”
She described her son as once being “really introverted and standoffish.”
“His whole personality has changed by going there,” she said of Cole, now 11 and a student at Homer Middle School.
Her daughter, now 9 and a student at West Homer Elementary School, “has always been a social butterfly. The club allows her to get that out.”
The possibility of the clubhouse closing weighs heavily on Sallee and her children.
“When my daughter first started hearing about the possibility of the club closing, I had to stop her tears from falling,” said Sallee. “She was heartbroken.”
Since opening in 1999, the Homer Boys & Girls Club has occupied the downstairs area of a former school building that, at the time, was owned by the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
A few years after the clubhouse opened its doors, the 16,000-square foot building was given to the city of Homer for $1. Since then, the city has provided the Boys & Girls Club with free-of-charge rent, maintenance and utilities.
“It was seen as a really good thing at the time,” Homer City Manager Walt Wrede said of obtaining the structure. “The city wanted the building and had some good ideas about how it could be used.”
In addition to the clubhouse — which occupies the gym, a kitchen and office area — the building offered 9,000 square feet of classroom and office space for Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, until completion of the college is new Bayview Hall last May. Several city offices are temporarily occupying a portion of the space during the renovation and expansion of City Hall.
“Now, economic times have changed and the city doesn’t have the money to maintain it,” said Wrede. The building’s heating zones cannot be separated, which makes it costly to heat. Its design makes snow load a concern. “We really haven’t identified a good use for it. There’s no shortage of ideas. The problem is money.”
So, with dollars tight, the Boys & Girls Club must “be out of there by the end of the calendar year. Right now, that’s the plan,” said Wrede, adding, “The city supports the Boys & Girls Club and we hope we can find a solution for them to stay in existence.”
Homer city council member Kevin Hogan, the city’s official representative on a newly formed Boys & Girls Club task force, is “very interested in seeing it has a viable future. It’s a necessary agency for this town.” Hogan also believes there is a “fair amount of support” for the clubhouse to remain where it is beyond year’s end.
Council member Barbara Howard is preparing to seek support at the council’s Nov. 28 meeting to allow the clubhouse to stay put through the end of the school year. Looking at the progress the task force is making, Howard said, “The community is saying they want and need this. The community is stepping up to the plate pretty significantly.”
Formed about a month ago, the task force has 10-15 members and is being organized by community volunteer Kelly Cooper of Homer. Sallee, who is on the board for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, also is on the task force. Its subgroups are focused on fundraising, searching for grants, locating a building and developing public relations.
“Its goal is to make the Boys & Girls Club sustainable,” said Cooper. “Not just this year, but in the future, too.”
Debra Leisek of Bay Realty is helping in that effort, inspired partly by Cooper’s “phenomenal” effort and “great team,” partly by people she knows who have benefited from the program and also “this has special meaning to me because one of the kids asked me to help.” In less than four weeks, Leisek has helped raise almost $4,000.
“The people of this community do support the club. They had no idea it was in peril,” said Leisek. “They have given freely with just a couple of emails and phone calls. That says something.”
The Homer Boys & Girls Club operates on a budget of $130,000, putting it in the same neighborhood as Soldotna’s $149,000 budget, according to Peter Micciche, board president for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula. The fee to families per child for a calendar year is $75. Sources for the balance include other clubs that operate in the black, the local board, corporate donations and a legislative grant.
“That’s an incredible value,” said Micciche said of the per-child fee.