Question: Where can you drop off your kid at the last minute on any afternoon of the school week for supervised homework and free time until 6:30 p.m. for just $10? (Not $10 an hour. $10 total.)
The answer is the Bainbridge Island Boys and Girls Club. And what is possibly the best bargain anywhere this side of the bridge just got even better with the relocation of B&GC to its new home at Coppertop Loop. The new facility is enormous, bright, airy, and so well equipped to meet the needs of kids and tweens and teens on the Island that older teens and grownups are certain to be jealous and want similar spaces of their own.
Last week, Executive Director Brooke Beals was kind enough to give a tour of the brand new space which, because it was the morning of a school day, was empty. But just a few hours later, the tables would fill up with the 75 or so kids who show up every day after school on the facility’s doorstep and with staff—the current staff to kid ratio is 1 to 15.
Beals stressed that B&GC is for all kids. Helpline House runs all their scholarship screening so when a kid shows up at their door, he or she experiences “zero barriers to coming here.” Beals said, “No one has to go through the stress of sharing their financial situation with the staff,” not even any of the 10 percent of members on full scholarship. The result is that everyone gets treated the same and feels the same.
The entrance area where kids check in opens into a large room filled with game tables, pool tables, foosball tables, a basketball shooting game, and a ping pong table. Beals said that when kids arrive after school they spend a few hours working on reading and homework during Power Hour, and the place hums quietly with focused activity. But, by the time parents and guardians show up to retrieve their kids, the place is so loud from games that she doubts anyone believes the kids were doing anything after school but having fun. You’ll have to take her word for it. She’s planning on adding some soundproofing to make the noise level more tolerable for the grownups.
Off one end of the large room are three classrooms. One serves as an art room, one is a computer lab also equipped with camera equipment for stop-motion animation projects, and the third is a classroom for the youngest clients.
Off the same end of the large room is an industrial-grade kitchen. Beals said that Storyville Coffee occupied this building as well as the one they are still in next door, and so the kitchen was upgraded for their needs. But now Beals is trying to “power it down” to meet their much less demanding uses. Mostly the room gets used for snack time and cooking projects. A large Ikea table in the middle serves as kids’ workplace for cooking and preparing snacks.
Beals said she and her staff are experimenting with a new snack program. Instead of giving kids the ever-popular Goldfish, for example, and other common snacks like yogurt tubes, they’ve been giving the kids one substantial snack per day like a burrito or a sandwich. The results have been super clear: They’re having far fewer behavioral issues, which Beals attributes to the low sugar, higher protein snack.
On the opposite end of the main room is another giant classroom where the kids work on Lego and other building projects and where the staff shows movies on Fridays. Beals said this summer they will be getting Lego robotics kits to start using with the kids in that space as well.
Upstairs is another generous social area for the middle schoolers with more game tables, foosball tables, and pool tables. Off one end is a lounge with books, couches, and a viewing screen. Beals showed me one of the ukuleles that is part of their popular ukulele program. She plans to get them hung on the wall as well as other art still waiting to be placed.
Beals took over as E.D. in 2012 after working for the Y in Seattle at Chief Sealth. When she started here, one of her first goals was to increase enrollment. She did. It has gone up from about 45 per day to between 65 and 75 per day. The club now has 310 annual members.
She and her staff talked about how people need to know who they are in order to entrust them with the care of their kids. So her staff started joining the local PTOs and getting to know people. With their efforts and with the increase in the numbers of people moving to the island, the B&GC was suddenly faced with having to turn people away because of the lack of room at their old space in the Aquatic Center.
Beals said that wasn’t an option, so right before the holidays she met with real estate agent Doug Nelson. Within a week he had found her the space. Beals said they sold their old digs to the Bainbridge Island Parks District, which will have no trouble filling it up.
Now Beals is facing other issues like how to maximize use of the much larger space on weekends and during the day before kids arrive. She said her Teen Director Kyle Boynton is busy working on ways to increase older kids’ use of the space as well.
Beals is ready for more. Her goal is to amp up membership to 150 within a year.
The B&GC had their soft opening on May 4. But on June 4, everyone is invited to the Grand Opening, even, Beals said, people who are just curious and want to look around. The B&GC is located at the east end of Coppertop Loop, off Sportsman Club, right between Storyville Coffee and the Rock Gym.
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Photos by Sarah Lane.