Dan Hust | Democrat
From bingo to ping-pong to fitness-themed shadowboxing (shown above) to art to computers, the Boys and Girls Club of the Town of Wallkill ensures many a Sullivan County kid is positively, safely and healthily engaged after school in Monticello, Liberty and Fallsburg. There are even plans to expand into Roscoe and Livingston Manor.
Where boys and girls can be boys and girls
Story by Dan Hust
Hope. Inspiration. Making a difference.
If those words sound like the clichéd slogan of politicians the world over, you really ought to pay a visit to the local Boys and Girls Club.
It just might allay your fears about the fate of the next generation. Indeed inside schools and community centers in Monticello, Liberty and Fallsburg, kids’ fates are actually cause for celebration.
That’s why the Boys and Girls Club of Town of Wallkill which serves Sullivan County is entering its 20th year as a popular, growing force for good.
“It’s an opportunity to be involved in something after school that’s productive, engaging and safe,” explains Barbi Neumann-Marty, one of the Club’s three unit directors.
“Nobody else is out there serving 3,000 kids a year and over 300 kids just in Sullivan County, 50 weeks per year,” adds board member and Rock Hill resident Sean Rieber.
Nearly half of those 3,000 kids live at or below the federal poverty level.
“A lot of them don’t have someone waiting for them at home. They might not have heat or electric,” says Barbi. “I would say the majority of kids who come here really need us.”
“We have a number of kids that I wish I could take home,” Executive Director and Roscoe native Alexis Eggleton acknowledges.
But for as much as five afternoons every week, these young people, typically ages 10-18, at least have a welcoming place to study, play and socialize where they’re the center of attention, listened to, cared for.
That’s thanks in no small part to a community willing to assist the Club via donations, volunteerism and fundraisers.
Next month, in fact, is the Club’s most popular fundraiser: the Sullivan County Celebrity Dinner, to be held March 8 at the Villa Roma in Callicoon.
You’ve probably heard of local “celebrities” undertaking all manner of shenanigans to garner tips from tables of entertained donors.
The fun they have, however, pales to the fun they support.
What they do
“They’re all my friends,” Imani Lilly says while glancing around the busy home ec room at Monticello High School.
Together with fellow MCS junior Micaiah Green, she’s cooking a batch of chicken tenders in one of the classroom’s ovens.
“It really is worth it,” she muses over the tempting smell of deep-fried batter. “It’s fun, it’s educational, it’s hands-on. It’s almost like an alternative school.”
That enthusiasm pervades all corners of the Monticello high and middle schools, where an incredible array of events are ongoing at the end of the school day.
In the computer lab, kids are playing games that improve their thinking skills. Just down the hall, there are even more getting good exercise while paddling a ping-pong or foosball.
The incongruous sight of students enjoying bingo is matched next door by their friends whipping up smoothies.
On the other side of the hallway, kids are set free to draw whatever they want with a hundred markers (literally) or given direction on how to stitch a practical bookbag or purse.
Back in the home ec room, the chefs-in-training are even planning their own version of the “Chopped” competitive cooking TV show, called “Sliced.”
Hidden among these games is more than a therapeutic respite from otherwise harsh lives. Household skills, social graces and a lust for learning are critical components all integrated with the school’s curricula and verified through testing and goal-setting.
“This reinforces the education they’re getting in a fun way,” affirms Alexis.
Homework help is also offered, with district-selected elementary, middle and high school students receiving special tutoring.
The outside world is involved too, with at least one speaker or presentation per month at each location. Club kids contribute to the community as well, including planting daffodils along Broadway in Monticello.
Over in Liberty, 5th-8th graders enjoy similar offerings, plus an open gym jointly operated two Fridays a month with the Interfaith Youth organization.
In Fallsburg, the Club operates a Drop-In Teen Center three times a week, which offers games, social activities and food.
For the first time this past summer, the Club operated the Mamakating Summer Camp in Bloomingburg, hosting more than 300 campers for six weeks of swimming, arts and crafts, softball, soccer and field trips.
Coming soon: InfluenceHer and Boys Club for middle-schoolers programs designed to promote emotional wellness in all sorts of situations, from bullying to mentoring.
How they do it
Staff and volunteers of the Boys and Girls Club are carefully screened, says Alexis.
“It’s not just a family it’s a team. There is a high level of accountability ... and we intentionally cross-train.”
They’re chosen for what they can offer children who may have few other responsible adults in their lives.
“We know that when they’re with us, we are making a difference,” explains Barbi.
But that comes at a cost, and the Club has had to pay as close attention to costs as any other nonprofit.
Staff were consolidated from three offices to one over the past two years, and space is only rented for the times programs will use it.
Contracts are reviewed annually right down to the cleaning company and in-house staff is used whenever possible.
“We write grants constantly no less than three a month,” advises Alexis.
Administrative costs comprise less than 11 percent of the Club’s budget, below the national average leading Forbes Magazine to name the national Boys and Girls Clubs a “Charity All-Star.”
“We’ve been able to reduce our overall expenditures considerably ... so kids can have those field trips and dances and other things,” says Alexis.
That’s what they won’t skimp on what young people need.
“We spend $5,000 a month on feeding these kids in Sullivan and Orange,” she remarks, then laughs. “There’s always a lot of peanut butter!”
How you can help
The Club’s success has drawn calls for its many programs to expand into western and northern Sullivan County and, in fact, officials are working on starting chapters in the Livingston Manor and Roscoe areas.
But it all takes time and money, and that’s where the community comes in.
“My interest in the Club really started after attending a Celebrity Server dinner at the invite of a friend of mine who was serving,” board member Sean Rieber recalls. “I was so impressed with just the professionalism and operation of that event, I did more research into the organization and liked what I saw.
“I've always been very interested in my community and been quick to donate to anyone who asked for kids; however, everything was very event-specific or short-term,” he adds. “With the Boys & Girls Club, I immediately connected with the mission and saw that they were truly making a difference in the long-term.”
Even someone without kids can be of help. Just ask board member Karen Fisher of Kenoza Lake, who never had children but found herself amazed with the Club’s reach.
“I see firsthand how these kids are so appreciative of what they’re offered,” she says. “They’re becoming good, productive citizens, poised, polite.”
Her company, Fisher-Mears Associates in Liberty, donates materials to the Club, but she’s eager to start volunteering her own time, especially in sports activities.
Sean plans to send his own son to the Mamakating Summer Camp this summer.
“Because of the Club, so many children have meals they wouldn’t otherwise have, role models they wouldn’t otherwise have, and they stay out of trouble,” he notes.
It’s people like Karen and Sean who ensure that no child is turned away for inability to pay.
So if you have time or money, the Boys and Girls Club wants to hear from you: 342-8833 or www.bgcorange.org.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot,” says Karen. “Every little bit helps, and it makes all the world of difference.”