Creating better citizens: Group looks to bring Boys & Girls Club to Rhinelander
By Eileen Persike, Editor
Efforts are underway to bring a Boys & Girls Club to Oneida County (BGCOC). The steering committee, spearheaded by Rhinelander Police Det. Sgt. Kyle Parish held a town hall meeting Monday night with the goal of explaining what Boys & Girls Clubs are all about.
“I’ve heard that when people hear ‘Boys and Girls Club,’ they think it’s specifically for kids who are in trouble, and it’s not,” Parish said. “It’s for anyone in the community to help them grow.”
Though the organization targets disadvantaged children, Parish said everyone in grades one through 12 is welcome. “The entire time they are in school, past kindergarten when they can write their name, they’re going to be part of this program.”
Parish saw a presentation on the club while attending a conference last summer on Drug Endangered Children (DEC), a task force he is involved in locally. That’s when he began thinking of the possibility of opening a Boys & Girls Club in Rhinelander.
“We’ve been working on the medical aspect and investigation aspect with the DEC program, but we don’t have any other resources,” Parish said. “Once the investigation is over and their health is taken care of, there’s nothing else for us to do for them and so I feel like we’re missing that last component and this would be that last component that could really help out.”
The Oneida County club is partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of Langlade County. The national Boys & Girls Club organization requires new clubs be partnered with an existing club. CEO Angel Zimmerman is not only acting as a mentor to Parish and the steering committee, but will become the CEO of the Oneida County club once it opens.
Steering committee member Jen Smits worked with the Wausau Boys & Girls Club for four years, and said she is still connected with kids who were part of the program and are now adults. The kids who attended formed a network, she said.
“It was a mix, a population of … some of the individuals who really needed it and kids who did well in school and were just looking for a place to go,” Smits said. “Maybe they didn’t fit that sports group or certain club groups and they found a community at the Boys & Girls Club and that’s where I see many different diverse populations coming together. Kids who they wouldn’t usually form friendships, were.”
Parish said he is looking for a centrally located building in Rhinelander with at least 5,000 square feet to house the BGCOC. Building requirements include a gymnasium for physical activity and a kitchen to provide snacks and dinner for all members. Additionally, the building will include such things as space for programming including arts and crafts, STEM activities, computer space and a game room. Parish said he has a building in mind that would cost an estimated $400,000 in renovations to fit the organization’s needs.
YMCA of the Northwoods board member Steve Agnoli said the Y’s purchase of the former South Park School could lead to some type of collaboration between the organizations.
“I don’t think we’ve had enough discussion on after-hours type activities because that is a large facility,” Agnoli said. “There might be some opportunities yet [to collaborate].”
Parish said a community assessment held a few months ago brought positive feedback for bringing the Boys & Girls Club to Rhinelander, but also negative feedback by some who saw the BGCOC as competition for the Y.
“That’s really not the case,” Parish said. “It’s something that I think we really could collaborate with and work together.”
However, Parish said he viewed the BGCOC as having a different focus than other after school care provided in the area.
“It’s not a place they need to go to for their parents,” Parish said. “It’s a place where they need to go for themselves.”
The cost would be $25 for the entire school year and $100 for the summer. Hours would be 3-6:30 p.m. weekdays with extended hours in the summer.
The next step for the steering committee is to begin a capital campaign to seek local donors as well as grants. The organization would need to raise three year’s worth of operating funds before the doors open as well as costs to purchase and renovate a building, or about $750,000.