ALAMOSA — The Boys and Girls Club of the San Luis Valley celebrated Boys and Girls Club Week earlier this month, but every day is unique and special — just like the children and adults who frequent the club.
At the club, located at 10th Street in Alamosa, youth enjoy physical, artistic and social activities ranging from playing games like “sharks and minnows” in the gym to planting and harvesting vegetables in the garden dome next to the club.
Makaila, 10, for example, said playing games is one of her favorite activities, although she also enjoys the HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) program “because they teach you to be healthier.”
She said, “If you eat a lot of sugar you die faster. If you want to live longer you want to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and protein and grains.”
Emily, 9, added, “We are growing carrots and spinach and mint, and we are making an apple tree.” She said one of the most important things she has learned at the club is “to eat healthy.”
Boys and Girls Club Director of Operations Claire Lara explained that the children took apple seeds from their snacks, got them to sprout and planted them in the dome. They are now 6-7 inches tall.
For Julia, 9, art is one of her favorite activities. “It’s really a chance to express yourself and get to learn all these different forms of art. It’s very fun.”
The young artists recently made creations out of twigs they found outside.
“My favorite part about being here is going to the dome,” said Isabel, 9. She said she enjoys learning about all the different plants and getting to grow them.
She explained that the leftover food from snacks goes into compost for the soil in the dome. The youth also recycle the water from the fish tank into their garden, she added.
Lara explained that the club raises tilapia, and the fish water provides nutrients for the garden soil. The club works with Ben Webster from the Trinidad State Junior College aquaculture program to raise the tilapia.
Snacks are Barrett’s favorite part of the club. “You know how kids are always hungry. They just want food,” he said.
Barrett said he also enjoys “power hour” when “you can get your homework done so when you go home you can play video games.”
Aiden, 9, said he likes “learning new things that we don’t learn in school.”
“Like how to make rockets,” Barrett added. “You will never do that in school.”
Aiden said he also enjoys playing games in the gym. He was part of the club’s basketball team, for example.
Lara said the club puts together a team that plays in the city parks and recreation league.
“That was fun,” Aiden said.
Emily signed up for the powder puff team. Barrett said when the girls play, the boys will be the cheerleaders.
The Boys & Girls Club members enjoyed special activities during spring break like going to the bowling alley and to the city’s new ice rink.
Youth enjoy the performing arts as well, with youth performing during the Youth of the Year event this year and joining the Adams State University steel drum band and conductor Tracy Doyle for a concert.
Another attraction for the club members is the staff.
“I really like the staff, especially Claire because she’s really nice,” Makaila said. She said she also likes Kelly who helps her with gymnastics.
“They make our snacks. They think of fun stuff to do,” added Barrett.
“My favorite staff member is Miss Jenna. She’s really sweet and caring. She trusts us with her baby and helps us with art.”
Jenna Eaton is the program director.
“Tausha helps me when I have a problem, if I trip in kickball,” Emily said. “Whenever I have something funny to say, she always laughs.”
“Staff come up with all kinds of fun activities for us to do,” said Isabel, 9.
“I like to see you guys. I like talking to you guys and other kids,” said Jason, one of the teen members of the club.
The youth said they have also enjoyed making friendships with each other. Makaila said she has friends that are “sassy” like her, and Barrett said he met one of his best friends Marcus at the club, and they found they had similar interests like collecting Pokémon cards.
Eaton added that the club also assists with academic reinforcement such as emphasizing the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas.
She said in addition to serving the younger children, the club has a teen program. The teens are currently hosting a “snack shack” as a fund-raiser for special trips. On Fridays in June stop by the club from about 11 a.m. to around 2 p.m. to buy a hamburger, chips and a drink to support the teens’ upcoming trips.
Some teens are also employed as junior staff for several hours a week, which provides good work experience for them and something for the younger children to aspire to.
This summer will offer special events for the club members such as adventure camps in partnership with Adams State. Last year the youth went rafting, rock climbing, kayaking and other fun adventures.
In addition to activities, the club members experience self-esteem building and learn leadership skills. For example, youth who do something admirable that a staff member notices are recognized on the “hand wall.”
Youth are also honored through the “member of the month” recognition for conduct like being kind or problem solving.
Julia said one of the important things she has learned at the club is “be kind to others.”
Members also serve on the club council and help decide what activities they will get to do and interact with the staff and director. Emily said the council was the first group to meet the new club director, Aaron Miltenberger. “We asked a lot of questions, and he liked all of them,” she said.
Lara explained that the club council includes boys and girls from each age group. She said the club holds an election, and youth experience running for office and persuading fellow club members why they should be elected. The club holds two elections, one at the beginning of the school year and one at the semester.
Lara said, “It’s such a blast working here.”
Eaton said the kids make the work fun. “The conversations you overhear and the conversations you have with them, it’s pretty entertaining,” she said.
“The honesty of the kids is unreal,” Lara added. “They keep us in check, very humble. They are very honest with us.”
She said one of the most important roles of the staff is to provide a safe, supportive and comfortable place for the youth, “just where you can become.”
Check out more information on the club’s Facebook or web site, BGCSLV.org
Captions: From left are Boys & Girls Club members Makaila, Emily, Julia, Isabel, Barrett and Aiden./Courier photos by Ruth Heide
Barrett, 8, shares original work with Boys and Girls Club Director of Operations Claire Lara, right.