Diane and Larry Ness

Oh, the days of childhood. Less pressure, more carefree, less stress and a whole lot more fun. I found myself wishing to revert back to my younger days even more after I heard about the fantastic new Boys and Girls facility scheduled to open in Yankton in mid-October!

Vanessa Merhib, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Brookings, Moody and Yankton County, helped me understand the importance the Boys and Girls Club serves in our community. Imagine an exciting but safe place where youth can gather for an abundance of possibilities, giving them outdoor space, gym space, cooking space, art space, exposure and opportunity in the arts. A place that offers academic programs that address learning loss while partnering with the schools and teachers to expose them to new opportunities and project based learning.

Boys and Girls Clubs have actually existed nationwide for over 125 years with a presence in South Dakota for 60 years. During this time, South Dakota has established 29 Club sites and 13 Boys & Girls Club Corporations.

According to Merhib, Yankton opened its Boys and Girls Club (BGC) in 2009 and was partnered with the BGC of the Missouri River area. Three years later the Board of Directors elected to partner with the Boys & Girls Clubs in Brookings and Moody County.

Yanktons current BGC offers two programs for youth, the Traditional facility which serves 6th-12th grade youth and the Academy, a fee-based and licensed program held at St. Benedict School and Stewart Elementary. Both programs together serve over 150 youth per day.

While the size of their current Traditional facility limits them to serving youth in 6th-12th grade, the new facility opening this fall will allow for many more youth to take part. Youth in grades 1st through 12th will have the opportunity to take part in a drop-in recreational program for $25 per year and they will continue to offer the licensed program for children ages 5-12 that will remain at St. Benedict School and Stewart Elementary.

Lori Stephenson, Vice-President of the Advisory Council, is excited about the BGC in Yankton, explaining, I am so excited about the BGC because it provides the kids in Yankton with a positive, safe place to go where they not only get to hang out with friends, but also are offered lots of great opportunities to learn how to be great. Kids in grades 1-12 will have lots of choices

to do fun activities that revolve around academics, healthy lifestyles, and good character. I especially like that homework help is offered on a daily basis.

Room to grow

The fantastic new facility will be located next to the Middle School, located at 2000 Mulberry Street. The stunning 24,500 square foot building will have enough room to offer separate sections for youth in grades 1st-5th, 6th-8th and 9th-12th. The facility will be equipped with a small kitchen, two separate art areas and a full sized gym with a divider giving the youth several options for activities. Everything was designed with the interest of the youth, from physical space to color of paint.

Children will be able to express their creative side through a huge Lego wall for grades 1-5 and a chalk wall for middle schoolers. Stephenson adds that the art rooms will provide an outlet for creativity that youth may not get at home.

A bright future ahead

Diane Ness and husband Larry, longtime BGC supporters and child advocates, gave the lead gift to this campaign and have worked to inspire others to give by offering it as a matching gift. She hopes that the BGC will have a positive impact on the community. We hope the youth of Yankton will love going there, that they will have opportunities to learn and to succeed, and that parents will know their children are in a safe place.

Larry and I have been so impressed with the many programs offered, she continues. Among them are community service, healthy lifestyles, homework help, art and science opportunities-all things that help encourage good character and self-confidence.

Lori Stephenson hopes that the memberships will grow quickly once parents realize the great things that the Club has to offer. She hopes that in the future the BGC facility will serve as a home base for an abundance of youth-focused opportunities, whether it be with schools, businesses, or Park and Rec. Ultimately, I want the Boys and Girls club of Yankton to be able to serve more kids more often, she states.

Teaming up for success

Merhib was surprised in Yanktons willingness to create something great for kids, especially in the teamwork with the schools and Park and Rec. They both went above and beyond to partner and have continued to because it is great for Yankton, for kids and for families. She further explains how she was pleased with the generosity of the community at large to invest in a bold undertaking like this and to invest in their youth, families and future of Yankton, she states.

The amount of support that has been provided to complete this project pleased Stephenson. Though sometimes it may feel as though the community doesnt put a priority on the needs of our youth, she feels that having the opportunity to build the Boys and Girls Club shows that the community knows that taking care of the kids is a high priority. By helping kids, we are helping families, which leads to a better city where people want to come to raise a family. A gift to the Boys and Girls Club is an investment in the future of Yankton.

Reflecting on the wonderful partnership the BGC has made with the Yankton School District, Ness states, So many people in the community have stepped up with financial commitments and continue to do so. The BGC is a great investment in our kids and they are our future!