Kids play
New Boys & Girls Club aims for September opening

Ryan, left, and Tanner Smith play “King of the Rock” outside of the Duranog Rec Center, near the old Armory Building on North Main. The Armory is currently being refurbished to house the future Boys and Girls Club of La Plata County, which is slated to open its door in September./Photo by David Halterman.

by Jeff Mannix

Wth star-spangled hope, Durango is poised to host an affiliate chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the top rated youth organization in the nation. The local chapter will be one of 4,000 affiliate clubs in 50 states and on 400 military bases worldwide, with an enrollment of 3.8 million kids, ages 6 to 18. The Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County is on schedule to open at the newly renovated Armory Building, located adjacent to the Durango Recreation Center, in September.

“With a capital campaign hoping for $768,000, we’ve raised or have committed $653,000 to date,” boasts board member Nancy Wharton, “and the county was generous enough to give us the old Armory Building rent free and contribute in excess of $100,000 to defray a complete gutting and rebuilding of the building.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of America has been rated the No. 1 youth organization for the 12th consecutive year and twelfth among all nonprofits in the country by Chronicle of Philanthropy, a national nonprofit trade publication. From its mission statement, the club’s programs and services aim to “promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence.” It is a package that foreshadows success and develops confidence, all of which are critical to responsible citizenship and healthy communities, stresses Wharton.

“We’re poised on the brink of something great,” says board member Jessica Wheeldon, who along with 15 other board members has been working since 2004 on this project. “We’re all so excited about this becoming a reality that we can hardly sit still. Kids will experience just how competent and influential they are, know the power they have to make decisions and how valuable their input is and know that they are respected.”

Wheeldon adds that these are all areas of character development that are often glossed over in school.

According to the club’s literature, 1,532 kids in La Plata County live with one parent who works full time. Another 3,500 kids live in homes with two working parents. These statistics provide fertile ground for the Boys & Girls Club of America. Middle school students, ages 12 to 14, make up the bulk of members in the club and are at the critical ages where after-school activities are the most influential and can do the most good. Five core programs comprise the function of Boys & Girls Club activities: The Arts; Education & Career Preparation; Health & Life Skills; Citizenship & Leadership; and Sports, Fitness & Recreation. Two youth development professionals will supervise volunteer mentors, and kids will cycle through the core programs in an environment that is precisely designed to be safe, fun, productive and all-inclusive.

Enrollment goals for the local chapter have been set at 500 the first year, with a membership fee of $15 per kid per year. Hours of operation will be primarily after-school hours and on weekends, although the club will be open all day, every day for kids with special needs or circumstances where a safe place could make a difference.

“In our community, many boys and girls are left on their own to find recreation and companionship after school,” says Board Member and Escalante Middle School Principal Amy Kendziorski. “What’s more, these are the times that can best be used to build character, complete homework, learn teamwork and have fun participating in organized recreation.”

Nationwide, the peak hours for juvenile crime are between 3 and 8 p.m., with the most dangerous period occurring in the first hour after students are dismissed from school. A brush with the law, or a brush with responsibility can change lives forever, especially in the at-risk age group that the Boys & Girls Clubs reach out to, notes Wheeldon. “This will be a safe, positive environment with adults who believe in the individuality and power of kids,” she says. “It’s addictive.”

Notable alumni of a Boys & Girls Club include the likes of Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Alex Rodriguez, Brad Pitt, Michael Jordan, Neil Diamond and Denzel Washington. Half of all alumni have said that the Boys & Girls Club they availed themselves of “saved my life.”

The local fund-raising effort for the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County speaks to the success the national organization has enjoyed since being founded in Hartford, Conn., in 1860. In addition to the trust and support of county commissioners, Brookie Architecture contributed all the design and remodeling plans, Clerici Construction donated concrete work, the Bank of the San Juans is underwriting a benefit golf tournament at Dalton Ranch on June 29; and the philanthropic backbones of La Plata County have stepped up to the plate in a big way, including First National Bank, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, Ballantine Family Fund, La Plata Electric Association, Durango Chamber of Commerce, Morehart Chevrolet, and dozens of other businesses and citizens hoping tomorrow’s world will be an improvement on today’s.

Financial contributions range from $1 to $15,000, but the enthusiastic Board of Directors says it won’t let up until the capital needs are fully met, fully assuring the club’s annual operating budget of $162,000.

For more information about the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County, visit the website at or contact board member Kip Koso, 375-0158.



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