In The News

Boys & Girls Clubs headed to the suburbs

Cincinnati Enquirer

Patti Alderson confesses she thought a certain way about Boys & Girls Clubs.

"My opinion was always that Boys & Girls Clubs were for very low-income kids," she said.

Then Alderson, head of the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty, led the charge to open such a club in Butler County's most affluent communities.

When the Boys & Girls Club of West Chester/Liberty opens June 2 in a former day care center at 4845 Smith Road, it will underscore the organization's move from the traditional heart of the city to the more prosperous suburbs.

The same thing is happening in Clermont County's Union Township, where a new club is expected to open in a former strip club in the Mount Carmel area this fall.

"We are not inner-city. We are a different animal," said Steve Holt, executive director of the West Chester/Liberty club. "(We) are reaching out to kids who need us the most. We are in an economy where we have two working parents and they are doing the best they can, and they need a place for the kids after school so their kids don't get in trouble.

"It's not that the parents aren't doing what they are supposed to, but kids have got free time and idle time is not good time sometimes."

Nationally, the Boys & Girls Club movement serves 4 million youth ages 6 to 18 through 1,140 independent clubs, with the majority serving inner-city kids.

"We have a wonderful community of very supportive people. But we do have 20 percent of our student body on free or reduced lunch in Lakota Schools. So that's between 3,000 and 4,000 kids. That's a lot of kids," Alderson said of the need for a Boys & Girls Club in West Chester and Liberty townships.

Boys & Girls Clubs are not just for poor kids, said Linda White, who runs the organization in Clermont County. A club has been open in out-of-the-way New Richmond for more than 20 years. It serves about 100 kids, mostly from the village.

White said she expects that at least 150 kids will enroll in the new club within the first two weeks. People are already calling to sign up.

"We are getting the populations from the middle- and upper-incomes also," White said. "What has happened is that statistically all kids who are unattended from 3 to 7 (p.m.) get into trouble. If they are by themselves ... they have imagination and money to do things that may not necessarily be a good choice."

"We are not a day care center. We are going to engage these kids and help build their character, self-esteem and passion," Alderson added.

Working mom: 'It seems like a really safe place'

For working parents like Holly Kennon of New Richmond, the club presents a safe after-school haven for latchkey children at $5 apiece per year.

Kennon's daughters, Zoee Ratliff, 6, and Sierrah Ratliff, 8, spend their afternoons at the New Richmond club where they participate in arts and crafts, cooking club and sometimes go on field trips. They also get their homework done before Kennon picks them up after a long day working at a local day care. That spares Kennon a huge headache when they finally get home.

"We don't have to fight about it," she said. "At first I was a little nervous about it. My 6-year-old doesn't like to go places without mom. But it seems like a really safe place."

Both the West Chester/Liberty and Mount Carmel clubs will open with the help of grants provided from the National Mortgage Settlement that was reached by attorneys general from across the country in 2012. The $25 billion settlement by five of the largest mortgage lenders involved deceptive practices used to foreclose on property owners.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine provided $4.35 million of the state's settlement to the Ohio Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs to expand programming to reach more children in underserved communities. Besides West Chester/Liberty and Clermont County, money went to clubs in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Massillon and Lorain and Marion counties.

The West Chester/Liberty venture received a $750,000 grant, which eventually will help build or buy a site for a larger club that would open in 2016, Alderson said.

Club will target more age ranges as time passes.  For now, the club will offer activities for grades two through six, with the addition of one grade per year afterward.

Holt, a Liberty Township resident and father of three, is putting his experience as a former youth minister at Wellspring Community Church to work to get the new club on track. He has led other ventures to create programming for the community's youth. In 2009, Holt helped start EDGE Teen Center across from Lakota East High School. The center, in a former warehouse on Wyandot Road, offers after-school activities and bands, gaming tournaments and movies for teens on weekends.

The summer program will last 10 weeks and Holt said the club is working on arranging buses to pick up children at local schools for the trip to the club.

The upcoming opening comes seven years after Lakota parents and teachers tried to start a Boys & Girls Club in the schools with help from staff at the Boys & Girls Club in Hamilton, which is Butler County's largest city. That fizzled after it "became too much" for the Hamilton club staff, Alderson said.

The Hamilton club then offered summer programs for Lakota students. That ended in 2010 after participation waned and busing the few children back and forth became too expensive, she said.