Jamie Taylor/river news
Angel Zimmerman, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Langlade County, left, looks on as her clubís director of operations, Corie Zelazoski, answers a question during an informational meeting Jan. 27 at Rhinelander High School.
2/4/2020 7:30:00 AM Boys & Girls Club organizers making
headway Approximately 30 people attend second informational meeting
In mid-December, when Rhinelander police sergeant Kyle Parish last attempted to spread the word about his effort to start a local Boys & Girls Club, Mother Nature interfered. A total of six people braved a snowstorm that night to attend the meeting.
Parish tried again on Jan. 27 and this time approximately 30 people gathered in the Superior Diesel Advanced Learning Center at Rhinelander High School to learn more about Parish's idea.
Favorable weather conditions also allowed Angel Zimmerman, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Langlade County, and its director of operations Corie Zelazoski, to travel to Rhinelander to explain what a Boys & Girls Clubs of Oneida County could offer children in the Rhinelander area.
"The reason why I wanted to start this project is last August I went to a drug-endangered children conference, and I've been doing that for about seven years, and they talked about bringing in a mentoring program, and they suggested bringing in a Boys & Girls Club because of the different aspects that they would have," Parish explained. "It just wouldn't be the mentoring part, it also works on feeding them, having a space to do homework and work with the school district."
When he got back from the conference, Parish contacted Zimmerman, whose club in Antigo just started its 20th year.
"What we provide is a safe place," Zimmerman said.
The Antigo club is located in the old teacher's college across from the historical museum on North Superior Street and what it offers in that space is what Parish envisions happening if a similar club can be established in Rhinelander.
"We average anywhere from 100 kids a day after school and in the summer it's anywhere from 130 to 160," Zimmerman said, adding that Antigo is comparable in size to Rhinelander.
Zimmerman said the cost of membership is $25 per school year and $100 for the summer.
"The reason summer is $100 is we provide more," she said. "We hire additional staff, we take the kids on field trips, we bring them in and do more enrichment activities so they are not behind when they return to school. But our mission is to empower all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as caring and responsible citizens. Every program that we do, that's what we're working on."
Zimmerman said the Antigo club does offer scholarships for children from low income homes.
"We never turn away a kid just because their parents can't afford the membership," she said, adding that building positive relationships through the club's mentoring program, which has two components, is the key to the club's approach.
"We have community members that come in once a week to meet with our club kids, and we have high school students who go to the middle school and mentor students once a week," Zimmerman said, adding that adult volunteer mentors are asked to commit to at least six months, which is the timeframe determined to be the most beneficial to the kids.
Parish said he learned through the national BGC headquarters that a new club could not be started unless it chartered through an experienced existing club.
"What they were seeing is that the Boys & Girls Clubs would pop up in cities and then they would disappear because they don't have the experience," Parish explained. "And if we tried to run it, it probably would fail. So she (Zimmerman) has actually agreed to help us run ours, she would be one of the employees that comes out to Rhinelander at least two days a week to help run the program."
A member of the audience asked if there would be a component where kids can get after school tutoring. Zelazoski said their club does have an after school program where kids can get extra help with homework. The organization also provides space for kids who need some level of supervision while completing their homework.
"Maybe they go home and they don't have anybody there to watch over them while they're doing homework or help with homework," Zelazoski said. "We also have a after-school program where one of our staff goes over to the middle school every single day to bring a snack over there and he sits down with these 20 kids, and we provide teachers that come in on a rotating basis and help with homework."
She said the Antigo club also has a learning center where there is homework every weekday from 3 to 3:30 p.m.
"We also have computers where students can do a learning-based program called Stride, and it meets them at their grade level and it asks them questions about reading, science and math," Zelazoski said. "So not only are they getting homework help, they are getting that next level, too. They can complete their homework then they get extra questions asked."
Like all BGCs, the Antigo club also offers arts and crafts, sports, programs that help kids learn and practice leadership and citizenship and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle.
The Antigo club has a total of 26 employees, 8 of whom are full time.
"We also take them (the kids) out in the community and teach them to give back," Zimmerman said. "As a nonprofit, you ask so much from your community, that teaching those kids to give back to the community, I think can do so much."
The Antigo club also feeds the kids in their program.
"And it's open to all kids, they don't have to be Boys & Girls Club members, they just have to be 18 or younger," Zimmerman said. "Kids can be in third grade, and have a younger sibling, they can bring that sibling with."
What meals are provided depends on the time of the year.
"We do breakfast, lunch and snack every day through the summer, Monday through Friday, or if they have a scheduled week from school," Zimmerman said. "And during the school year, we offer a snack from 2:45 to 4:45 p.m. and then dinner from 5 to 6 p.m. Last year, we served somewhere around 33,000 different meals to kids in our community, and it's a huge need in Langlade County, but it seems to be common everywhere."
She said Parish has told them of instances where he has been inside residences investigating alcohol or drug-related cases and the only thing in the refrigerator "was ketchup, mustard and alcohol."
"We are doing everything we can to help kids do better and help break the cycle," Zimmerman said.
She was quick to add that BGC is not just for kids from troubled homes or those who have difficulties with homework.
"It kind of has a stigma that it is for the bad or poor kids, but it's for all kids," Zimmerman said. "Some kids might need us for only three months, they might need it all the way through school first through 12th grade. It's those positive relationships that they build with staff that really make an impact in their life."
She noted that the Antigo club has been around for so long she now has children of former club members attending. She also said BGCs do not try to compete with other organizations for members.
Parish said fundraising is still ongoing for the proposed Rhinelander club because the steering committee not only has to have a building, but enough money in the bank to fund its operation for 18 months.
"We do have a building now, it's not being announced because the company that is going to be working with us is another nonprofit, and they need to work with their board to kind of get things situated," Parish said. "Once that's done, we'll be up and rolling."
According to Parish, the location is accessible from the schools and has everything the steering committee is looking for.
"We want gym space, we want to have equipment space, have a computer lab, have an arts and crafts room," Parish said. "It has everything that was on my list and a little bit more."
The first hire the steering committee for Rhinelander's BGC will make will be an executive director, who will train at the Antigo club. This will also apply to other full or part-time employees.
Parish, who has had to use vacation and other time off available to him through his job with the city to help push his dream, said he will be excited when the director is hired.
He is also ambitious as to how soon the club could be up and running.
"We really want to be open by September," Parish told the group.
The Boys and Girls Club of Oneida County has an account at Peoples State Bank where people can bring donations. For more information, go to the Boys & Girls Club of Oneida County Facebook page.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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