Boys, Girls Club offers new kids' hangout

Numbers rising at new youth center in the valley

Posted: Monday, August 14, 2000

To the sounds of reggae music and clicking pool balls, 11-year-old Devon Bliss shoots baskets. He uses three balls, letting them roll down the slide beneath the indoor hoop, catching them and shooting again in a constant cycle.

Next to him, two children play air hockey. Music blares intermittently as they score goals, mixing with the sound effects from a Nintendo 64 game in the corner.

The number of kids flocking to the Boys and Girls Club of Juneau already is increasing since it opened its doors a little more than a week ago.

``Our first day, which was only kind of a half-day, there were three kids that showed up -- and nobody knew we were open,'' said Steve Bassett, unit manager for the club, located in a storefront behind the Nugget Mall.

Since opening day, numbers have increased steadily.

``It's increasing every single day,'' Bassett said. ``It's snowballing into a real good thing.''

The children at the club were enthusiastic about their new hangout.

``It's just a nice place to hang out with your friends,'' said J.D. Kelly, 13. ``It keeps you out of trouble.''

``I wanted something to do in the summer that's fun,'' said Amanda Heppner, 11. ``It's fun and there's a whole bunch of kids and the counselors are really nice.''

Bassett said news of the club is being spread among children and teens by word of mouth; in the case of Jessica Valero, 11, and her brother Fernando, 9, that's accurate. They found out about the club from Amanda.

``Just having something to do and not staying home all summer long,'' Jessica said of its appeal. ``More people, more fun.''

So far, Bassett said, most of the club attendees are middle-school age and live in the Mendenhall Valley. But he's quick to point out that the club, which is open to kids ages 8 to 18, serves all of Juneau.

``The majority of our kids are from the valley, but the club isn't just for the valley,'' he said.

To increase its range of appeal, Bassett said there are plans to spread the word at the high school.

``We've had a pretty good number of teenagers interested in the club,'' he said. ``And we're certainly going to try to get those kids interested (in registering).''

Additionally, the club is seeking volunteers of all ages.

``We as a community, if this is going to take place, we have to make it,'' said Sheila Barrett, a member of the club's steering committee.

The support has been extraordinary, she added.

``People in the community were so great. People have really bent over backward to make this happen.''

Bassett and Barrett are confident the club's positive effects will be great.

``What better way to reach the kids than somebody who wants to listen to them?'' Barrett said. ``This is where you're going to find out if they have a problem.''

Bassett agreed.

``It's offering them a safe place to go, a fun environment,'' he said. ``It offers them a chance to meet new people. We try to teach them responsibility and manners -- it's a good mixture, and they can't get enough of it.''

Annual membership in the club is $25, but scholarships are available. Additional activities include foosball, ping-pong, computer and Internet access, arts and crafts, tutoring, a library, snacks and space for games. The club is at 8825 Mallard St. and is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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