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FORT LUPTON — The idea of an after-school program in Fort Lupton — specifically, a Boys & Girls Club — has long been a hot-button topic for educators and parents alike, with discussions taking place in recent weeks at just about every school board, city council and town hall meeting.
In Weld County, the Boys & Girls Club is old hat — the county’s first club was founded in Greeley in 1964 and, consequently, that club is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this year, according to Todd Bale, executive director of the Weld County Boys & Girls Club. There are currently four clubs in Weld County, including two Greeley/Evans locations, the Art Barker Clubhouse in Milliken and the Galeton Clubhouse, near Eaton.
For Fort Lupton, where 68 percent of students in the Weld Re-8 School District qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, it’s not a matter of wanting the program, but rather figuring out how to pay for it.
By most accounts, including estimates from Bale, the program costs about $1,000 a student to operate and would require somewhere between three to five years of consistent financial backing of about $100,000 a year. For the program to be successful, Bale and others said the club needs a minimum of 100 participating students.
“A lot of benefits”
The program, by all appearances, is a perfect fit for what Weld Re-8 leaders and city officials are looking for, and the concept has gained the strong verbal backing of many community leaders, including Re-8 Schools Board of Education President Mike Simone and Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy Holton, whose wife, Gerri, is spearheading early efforts.
“Why the Boys & Girls Club? The number one reason is outcomes,” Gerri Holton said in June when she gave the school board a preliminary report on the progress of the proposed program, which she said is still in the very early stages of development.
Simone, himself a B&G Club alumnus, supported the initiative at that June board meeting and again in a July email, in which he touted the club’s focus on both academics and physical recreation.
“I’m a big fan,” Simone said. “I can see a lot of really good benefits from a partnership with this organization.”
Gerri Holton and others who’ve publicly discussed the program said they hope to see something in place by January in Fort Lupton. But many supporters and organizers also know the club will work best in proper accommodations, such as a building of its own — something Holton told board members she’d like to see happen in “18 to 24 months.”
“Learn to crawl”
In the meantime, Tommy Holton discussed the matter at a town hall meeting July 9, along with Assistant City Administrator Aaron Herrera and Councilwoman Shannon Rhoda, who also serves on the Weld Re-8 board.
At a city council meeting July 7, Rhoda lamented how far out the city and school district seemed to be from implementation. Two days later, Rhoda expressed a little more optimism, but said it will take more support from the school district, city officials and the community at large to begin the process.
“I think the school’s probably going to have to take on the lion’s share (of costs),” Rhoda said, adding that the district should have about $60,000 already budgeted to start an after-school program.
Mayor Holton, however, said it will likely require $10,000 to $15,000 just to start up the startup: He said the group of volunteer organizers will need some start-up capital in order to properly fundraise for and promote the project.
Rhoda, Holton, Herrera and other city officials also discussed potential host locations, and Rhoda said she stands firmly behind Twombly Elementary. Gerri Holton in June told board members she too felt Twombly was most suited to accommodate the program.
Rhoda said there’s opposition to having the program at Twombly, mostly over issues regarding transportation. But the mayor added that no matter where the program’s hosted, there’s bound to be complaints about bussing.
Rhoda said the plan could also later include using empty facilities at Vincent Park, and said a transition down the road to that location would be easiest from Twombly. But before any of that happens, Herrera pointed out the club must first be established.
“We have to learn to crawl before we can walk,” he said.
“Leadership and investment”
Bale said the initial process will be challenging, but said he sees the situation in Fort Lupton as similar to those faced in Milliken, which he said is comparable in demographics, size and circumstance.
“We’re really focused on doing this thing in Fort Lupton and lining up the leadership and investment … before we just swing open the doors,” he said. “That’s the most prudent and sustainable way to go about creating a new club.
“The beauty of what we do is that we have a larger, countywide template that still allows for and respects the culture and identity of every different community,” Bale added. “It’s our aspiration that the Fort Lupton Club becomes the blueprint of how to do this thing in other parts of the county as well.”
Bale said the $1,000 a year it costs per student breaks down to about $20 a week for “nearly 1,500 hours of life-saving programs and services.”
“The kids and families pay about $10 a year, and the community steps up and invests the rest,” he added.
And Bale said those community investments can be nearly cost-free.
“If you’re paying taxes, with the credits and deductions, you’re a prime candidate to be a donor and save in the process,” he said.
Bale said he suspects United Way will also invest capital into the project, and suggested some “local energy interests” might also be interested in helping.
Once a charter member of the Weld County conglomerate, Bale said the Fort Lupton Club would also be eligible for a split of any grant funding received.
“We always have to think beyond the first 100 club members (to) ‘How do we fund the 200th and 300th member?’” Bale said. “If everyone … will invest at the level they can, we’ll certainly have enough resources to sustain the club (in Fort Lupton).
“Then, once you exceed the basic sustenance, you can begin to dream the big dream of your own standalone, privately owned clubhouse,” he added. “I’m excited about the journey.”
“Pathway to success”
Bale said the Boys and Girls Club provides not just a safe place for kids to go after school, but a “pathway to success.”
“When you melt all the supporting data and amazing club success stories down, this thing is fundamentally about hope and opportunity,” Bale said. “Kids don’t choose the cards they are dealt in life, and although we have kids from all socio-economic backgrounds, what we pride ourselves on is ensuring that every youth we serve gets a true pathway to success.
“Hope is the currency of life,” Bale added. “If a kid has a difficult home life and maybe has some challenges that are academic or social in nature, they can still find a surrogate and supportive home and family environment at the club.”
That “home,” Bale added, is full of structure and routine. Clubs put a primary focus on academics – homework during the school year and a summer study program designed to reduce “learning loss” the rest of the time. Students are also fed and, after their academic work is done, get to burn off some energy participating in physical activity.
Bale backed the benefits of the club with numbers showing club members to have better grades and higher graduation rates, but again pointed to even greater implications: He said in a 2007 poll of more than 4,000 random club alumni, 57 percent said the club “saved their life.”
“If we don’t intervene and invest in the youth when they are pliable and impressionable then we really don’t have grounds to complain later at the consequences of an adult misspent life in our community,” Bale added.
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson at 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.