SETTLING IN AFTER SPLIT
It's been 16 months since the Blooming Prairie Boys & Girls Club split from the regional organization and became its own youth group.
"I feel the club is settling in" after reorganizing into a youth group of its own, says Bryce Schlichter, co-president of the Blooming Prairie Youth Club. He shares that leadership role with Andrea Kvalsten.
"We had a slight decline in students for our programs, but it has started to come back," Schlichter pointed out.
Kelli Naatz, director of the BP Youth Club, said the Youth Club has added some new families, acquiring a larger group of kindergartners. Naatz said she recruited kindergartners during their Kindergarten Connection last April.
Naatz said the enrollment at the BP Youth Club hovers around 38. "We also have frequent drop-ins," she said.
The Youth Club added an early morning child care program this year, students coming in at 7 a.m. and then boarding a school bus to be taken to either the elementary school or high school.
The regular Youth Club program offers activities for kids after school (3:15 p.m.) to 6 p.m. when parents pick them up.
Naatz says the youth are assigned to their own cubicles. They then sign in and have a healthy, nutritious snack.
The schedule after school has the kids doing their homework, spelling and reading. They are then given outside time and return inside to do technology games.
Naatz said the spelling programs for those in grades 1-6 have been well received by the kids and approved by elementary teachers. Kids learn how to pronounce words and how to use them in a sentence, Naatz said.
The spelling work done at the Youth Club helps the kids with spelling tests at school, Naatz informed. "Teachers have noticed a significant improvement," she said.
Naatz is the only full-time employee at the Youth Club. She is assisted by three part-timers, Alicia Ptacek, a college student at Riverland and by two high school sophomores Lilly Abbe and Chris Shepard.
Youth Club enrollees are allowed to have free choice, which includes time outside. Kids then participate in kick ball and soccer.
When returning inside, kids are given the opportunity to work on tablets. The tablets were funded by a grant from the Blooming Prairie Education Foundation.
"This is a different way of learning and it is popular with the kids," she said. Books are also available on tablets and this is a good educational piece to have here, said Naatz. Kids also have time to work on crafts, led by Ptacek.
The Youth Club program changes in the summer with more kids coming from outside the school district. They come from Owatonna, Austin and Ellendale.
In the summer, kids spend three days at the pool, two days at the library and two days at the park. The club kids maintain their own garden in the summer. "The kids grow food and use it during their baking time," Naatz said.
Co-president Schlichter said the Youth Club exists to serve everyone in the community. "It takes a whole community to support it," Schlichter said.
More enrichment activities definitely keep the kids interested, said Schlichter, who has two children in the youth program.
The Youth Club board just recently approved a 2019 budget. The board now plans on building a community awareness of its goals, which include strategic planning and sustaining funding. Long-range goals also embrace programing and capital improvement.
"We have dreams," Schlichter said, like some day building a greenhouse for kids.
"It's all about enriching the lives of our kids," says board member Naomi Hansen.
The Youth Club's main fundraisers include: the Benefit Bash coming Feb. 2, Rib Fest on the July 4th weekend, wine gala at J & H Liquors and the Gobble Wobble run/walk on Thanksgiving Day.
Adding to the discussion on goals, Naatz said two of her goals include getting community members to come to the club and talk about their jobs and secondly to grow numbers.
"The best part of coming to work is being with the kids," said Naatz.
"They can test you, or brighten your day very quickly. You are always learning and it's fun to see the kids get excited about learning."
There are currently eight positions on the board. Members include Schlichter, Kvalsten, Breauna Riewe (treasurer), Stacy Salinas (secretary), Adam and Angela Thoen, Kay and Orlo Toquam, Robin and Craig Kruckeberg and Naomi Hansen.
Talk has circulated around the community about the possibility of having a new youth facility. Schlichter said a Youth Facilities Foundation has been looking at the future needs of our youth. "We gave them a needs assessment," Schlichter said.
"A new building would be good for the community and any way you can promote better service would be a plus," Schlichter said.