Heather Jewell has three pet peeves: running, gum and kids who use their hands instead of cues to play pool.
She’s branch director at the Boys & Girls Club of Spokane County, and considering that she spends her days surrounded by 160 children, ages 6 to 18, those pet peeves are understandable.
“We do have controlled chaos around here,” Jewell said, unlocking a door to an upstairs classroom. “But we try to really do something with the kids. We have trained staff and volunteers with hours and hours of service here.”
The Boys & Girls Club is not a place where children are warehoused in front of TVs until their families pick them up. The old school building on East Providence that houses the club has an activity room with pool tables and other activities, and a string of upstairs classrooms equipped with computers, books, movies and CDs. There’s also a “Mini Kennel,” a tribute to nearby Gonzaga University, which has a close relationship with the club, Jewell said.
The club counts more than 1,700 paying members, which means kids of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors are in motion throughout the 1,900-square-foot facility.
“You can do lots of fun things here,” said Kaylana Miller, 9, a third-grader at Longfellow Elementary School. “I’m good at playing pool. I practice a lot. And my friends from school are here.”
What would Kaylana do if she weren’t at the club?
“I’d be outside at home, but it wouldn’t be as much fun,” she said, adding that she walks to the club from school a few blocks away. She also likes the homework room.
“It’s called the Discovery Room, and I like it because no one bothers you when you are there,” she said.
It’s also one of Jewell’s favorite places.
“The older kids earn points for helping out, and when they have 20 points we have a power hour party, a pizza party,” Jewell said. “It takes a while to get the points. We’re hoping to teach them that there are no instant rewards.”
The Boys Clubs of America began in Hartford, Conn., in 1860 when a group of women organized a club for homeless or idle boys roaming the streets. Decades later, the clubs began serving girls. The name became the Boys & Girls Club in 1984. Spokane’s first club was established in 2001.
“We have a big mix of kids. Some grew up in the neighborhood; some don’t speak that much English. They all come from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds,” Jewell said. “I’d say our biggest challenge is dealing with problems from the outside that are bigger than you or me or anything – the kids bring with them what they’ve experienced at home or at school.”
Zak Jewell, 15, is a freshman at Mead High School. His parents give him a ride to the Boys & Girls Club almost every day.
“I moved around a lot and I used to be very shy,” said Zak, who’s not related to Heather Jewell. “Then when we moved to Five Mile my neighbor told me about the Boys & Girls Club and I’ve been coming here ever since. That’s 4 1/2 years.”
Zak is the club’s Youth of the Year award winner, an honor he received because of his many volunteer hours and good grades and the work he does as president of the Keystone Club, a group that helps the club plan smaller field trips.
“My favorite part is the crazy atmosphere here and the mass chaos,” he said with a grin. “And Survivor Night. That’s when we have about 60 kids spend the night here and we play games and watch movies. We do that twice a year.”
The Boys & Girls Club is essentially an after-school program, providing a supervised place to play or do homework. Trained staff are assisted by volunteers.
“We always need volunteers, especially those who’ll stick around,” Heather Jewell said. “They are a really important supplement to our professional staff. You’ll notice that some of the classrooms are locked on some days. That’s because we don’t have enough staff to keep them open and supervised.”
The afternoon always begins with an after-school snack. Then the kids spread out to various activities.
Shirley Chen, 10, a fourth-grader at Longfellow Elementary, has been coming to the club for three years.
“A lot of my friends are here and sometimes I do homework,” Shirley said, but she doesn’t want to do Survivor Night. At least not yet.
“I like the assemblies, too, when they tell us what’s going on and new things,” she said, adding that her favorite after-school snack is spaghetti.
What’s the most important thing to know if you are new at the Boys & Girls Club?
“You should know the rules,” Shirley said. “That’s really important.”
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