Jayden Stuyvesant’s parents drop him off at the Boys and Girls Club in Kenai every morning before 8 a.m. His other option is to spend the day at his mother’s work.
Stuyvesant is one of nearly 300 youth who eat their meals, have safe supervision and participate in healthy activities spread out at eight clubhouses in the central Kenai Peninsula for up to 10 hours daily, Monday through Friday during the summer. For more than five years, federal funds that ensure those services are provided have continuously dwindled, and the community is stepping in to make up the shortfall.
“People jump on board and donations increase when they find out we have lost funding,” said Heather Schloeman, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Boys and Girls Clubs.
In 2015, business and individual donations were up by $14,000 from the year before, Schloeman said. Donations received during the annual Auction Gala Fundraiser help cover a huge chuck of the $1.9 million annual budget, including many scholarships for members who cannot afford the yearly fees, she said.
Schloeman said she and her staff have had to become more visible in the community, by attending Rotary and Chamber of Commerce meetings and presenting on the state of funding sources.
Last year the Kenai Peninsula clubs were denied two federal grants totaling $335,000. One would have facilitated upgrades to the Kenai Clubhouse Nutritional Program’s kitchen that feeds up to 112 mouths every weekday during the school year and the second would have funded the Kasilof Clubhouse Morning and Afterschool Youth Development Programs for three years.
This year the Kasilof clubhouse was denied the request for vital state funding and to purchase a 15-passenger van, and along with the Soldotna clubhouse, lost funding for after school food programs due to area eligibility, Schloeman said.
“This was a huge loss for us,” Schloeman said.
Luckily, the Soldotna Club is still able to serve breakfast and lunch through the Summer Food Sponsor Program during the summer months, she said.
United States Department of Agriculture dollars funneled by the state through Child Nutrition Programs pay for the meals, which are offered to anyone under the age of 18 regardless of being a member, and snacks offered at eligible locations.
Federal grants the clubs do receive are vital, and make up 44 percent of the annual budget.
“We were just awarded for the first time a grant from Providence (Health and Services Alaska) for $68,000 to support our Seward Club’s Triple Play Program. We apply every year for mentoring grants through Boys and Girls Clubs of America and other federal programs when available from OJJDP (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention),” Schloeman said. “We currently have six of these grants at five of our sites although there is a steady decline in the amount of grant funding received annually.”
No amount of federal money is unrestricted, Schloeman said.
With secured grant money comes requirements, said Nikiski North Star clubhouse Director Shanette Wik.
Wik’s clubhouse operates under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, which funds 2.5 Kenai clubhouses and makes up 25 percent of the Kenai Boys and Girls Clubs’ annual budget.
When applying for grants, Wik said, “We are not asking for more, we are asking for what we need to run our programs.”
An outside evaluator frequently grant sites three times each year to gauge whether or not the clubhouse members are meeting measurable, preset goals outlined in the grant agreement, she said.
Boys and Girls Clubs are a continuation or extension of school, Schloeman said.
Daily schedules include a variety of programs, all predetermined in the grant approval process, that teach members healthy life skills that can be applied in and out of the classroom, she said.
Every day, from the moment Devalynn Dunphin walks in the door in the morning she starts to participate in scheduled activities aimed at stimulating club members physically, socially, mentally and emotionally. She said her favorite part of the day is the gym, and tries to get as much floor time as possible.
Wik reported attendance at the Nikiski North Star site has doubled since last summer, which she attributes to the strength of services offered on a daily basis.
“Our parents know what we are doing these activities,” she said.
At the Kenai clubhouse, Stuyvesant emphatically announced he recently learned how volcanoes erupt in one of his STEM activities. At the Nikiski North Star clubhouse, one student has already covered 22 miles this summer during the running program, Wik said.
“We are replacing what would normally be family time,” said Nathaniel Saldivar, Kenai clubhouse staff member. “We do out best to not make it feel too much like school.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.