Detective Sergeant Kyle Parish of the Rhinelander Police Department, who has been working with several other area residents to establish a Boys and Girls Club in the Rhinelander area, held an open house Monday evening at Nicolet College to introduce the idea to the public. A total of six people braved a snowstorm to hear what Parish and two other members of the fledgling group had to say.
What the group is proposing is to create a Boys and Girls Club of Oneida County (BGCOC) that would be affiliated with the very successful Antigo club, even sharing the same executive director.
"This year, I went to our drug-endangered children national conference in La Crosse and heard about how a lot of other communities are bringing in Boys and Girls Clubs to try and help with the drug-endangered children problem," Parish explained. "That is why I started spearheading this movement. A lot of the things we see up here in Oneida County is we don't have a lot of resources in our community or Oneida County for kids once we get past a certain point in our drug-endangered children program."
Parish said a large part of the drug-endangered child program deals with the investigation into the drug side of the equation and then working to reunite the family once the parent is off drugs.
"But it really doesn't help the kids past that point, because we don't really have a mentoring organization in Oneida County anymore" Parish noted. "There have been a lot that have come and gone."
Parish said he has had some preliminary discussions with Ryan Zietlow, executive director of the YMCA of the Northwoods, but there seems to be some confusion about just what the Boys and Girls Club would provide in the way of services.
"The Boys and Girls Club is not just a mentoring program, it's a place that the kids can go every single day of the week. It is a safe and stable environment for them. They get to know the other people and that helps with their homework, the STEM program which helps them with science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Parish said. "Not only that, it helps keep them more socially engaged."
The officer noted that a lot of kids in grades 1-12, to whom the program is geared, "don't have a lot of financial resources."
"The Boys and Girls Club only costs $25 a school year and $100 during the summer," Parish said. "While we try to target disadvantaged, everyone in the community is available to (use) that."
A common misconception people have about Boys and Girls Clubs is that they are just for "kids who are in trouble," he added.
"It's not, it's for everyone in the community to help grow and make them into mentors," he explained. "To make them into mentors for the smaller kids."
Parish said the number one reason that children come into contact with law enforcement is "because they have nothing else really to do."
"If they have a safe place where they can come and have arts and crafts, actually be able to have some structured time to work on their homework, work in the computer lab and start their technology education, that would help them in the future," Parish said.
Another goal, to be addressed once the club is operating, is to try to leverage grant money into establishing a Fab Lab in the club.
"I know we already have a couple in the community, but having more is always good," Parish noted.
He said fundraising and donors are going to be the lifeblood of the Boys and Girl Club. The partnership with the Antigo club, which has been around for 19 years and has a proven track record, will also help the group immensely, he said.
"They have anywhere from 125 and 150 kids in the summer. They have been very successful at what they're doing," Parish said. "They will be bringing that success up to us."
Parish said there is grant money available that will enable the new Oneida County club to provide a meal for the kids, many of whom would otherwise have to fend for themselves because their parents are either working or not home.
"That's because one of the other things we want to do is help those kids who don't get good meals at home," Parish said. "I don't know how many times I've been in homes where the kids have to prepare their own meals after school because mom or dad are actually working."
Parish said the money the group raises in this initial capital campaign will go toward securing a building to house the club as well as salaries for two full-time staff and three part-time staff members "who will work with the kids everyday."
Jen Smits, who is a member of the BGCOC board, worked for the Wausau Boys and Girls Club for four year between 2001 and 2005.
"I'm still thinking about the kids that I connected with that are (now) adults," Smits said. "It was a mix of those individuals who needed it and kids who did well in school but were looking for a place to go. Maybe get that sports group or eat certain club foods, I think they found a community at the Boys and Girls Club. And that's where I see many different, diverse populations coming together, kids who they normally wouldn't form friendships with were."
She also said some of the kids in the Wausau club formed a positive connection to adults where those connections didn't exist in their home life.
"The staff were a positive adult who was consistent in their life, who was there everyday after school they could count on," Smits said.
"We're hoping to have this open by September of next year," Parish said. "Location is still kind of dependent on fundraising. We talked to the Y and unfortunately there isn't any space available, but we do want to partner with other community organizations like the Y and everything else we have out there."
He said the organizers are predicting the club would reach between 50 and 70 kids initially.
The fundraising is important because the national Boys and Girls Clubs organization requires any new club have three years of expenses in the bank and partner with an existing club.
According to Parish, in 2008 a bunch of new clubs sprang up all over the country, only to fail because they didn't have enough funds or knowledge as to how to properly run a club. Parish said his long-range goal is for the Rhinelander club to be in a position to help start one in Minocqua.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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