Juneau Boys and Girls Club services extended 90 days

Philanthropic youths, community seek permanent solution

Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thanks to community generosity, the 155 kids that attended the defunct Juneau Boys and Girls Club will have somewhere to go - at least until Jan. 12.

Since the Juneau Boys and Girls Club closed suddenly due to lack of funding a little more than two weeks ago, community leaders and a group of philanthropic young people have mobilized to find a short-term solution for the kids.

Their brainstorming sessions have led to the creation of an after school program called the Valley Youth Club, which will be operated by Juneau Youth Services for the next 90 days at the Boys and Girls Club's old location.

JYS has rehired all three former Boys and Girls Club staff members.

During those 90 days, JYS will be fundraising and will be working with people in the community to come up with a long-range plan to keep the new club going, or will find a way "to end the program responsibly" and give parents enough time to find somewhere else to put their kids, said JYS Executive Director Walter Majoros.

"We wanted to buy a little breathing room for the families and the kids," he said.

Challenges beyond the 90-day period remain, however. Organizers are looking for funding and for a coordinator to help them find a solution.

"I'm confident that we can do the fundraising for the 90 days; it's the long-term sustainability that's the huge challenge," Majoros said. "We don't have any money. We're starting from zero after the 90 days."

Sixty children attended the Boys and Girls clubs' after-school program every day, said former manager Taralee Ellis.

Ellis said kids she's spoken to so far are excited about the new club. In the intervening weeks, some have gone into alternate care, some into short-term care and some are at the mall after school now, she said.

"I'm just so impressed that JYS has stepped up as a member of the community, realizing this is a population that needs to be served," she said. "We definitely need the support of parents and the community."

The new club came about in large part because of a $7,500 grant from the Youth Action Committee, a three-year-old organization of 11 young people from Juneau-Douglas High School and one from Thunder Mountain High School.

The Juneau Community Foundation is the parent organization for the youth committee; it met the committee's challenge by matching another $7,500. Together, the two groups challenged JYS to raise $15,000 from the community; they will match JYS dollar for dollar.

The total estimated cost to operate the Valley Youth Club for the next 90 days is $30,000.

Ken Leghorn, executive director of the Juneau Community Foundation, said the Youth Action Committee's saying "this is a priority" got his board's attention.

JDHS sophomore Max Lyons, speaking for the Youth Action Committee, said helping out the kids affected by the closure seemed like the perfect thing for the committee to get involved in.

The youth action committee focuses on helping at-risk and homeless youth, he said.

This year, the youth action committee raised $23,000 for philanthropic efforts through private fundraising and grant writing. It was just beginning its grant cycle when the Boys and Girls Club closed.

Majoros, Leghorn and United Way of Southeast Alaska President Brenda Hewitt, who facilitated the solution, praised the youth committee's action.

"I'm so impressed with the idea of youth helping youth," Majoros said.

And as for the community as a whole, Hewitt and Majoros said response to the closure was "overwhelming."

Organizers said the ultimate success of the new club depends on community support. Estimates for the club's former annual operating costs run between $190,000 and $220,000; Majoros said determining estimated operating costs for the Valley Youth Club will be one of the challenges it faces.

The new club opens Wednesday. Ellis said she anticipates the first three days will largely consist of signing kids up.

"I'm excited," she said. "I think we can make it work."

Transportation services for participating children begin Oct. 19. The lease for the building runs until Jan. 12.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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