When the school year ends, so will the Boys and Girls Club of Homer, at least as it is currently known. That doesn’t mean the B&G Club is abandoning Homer, just that it needs a plan for the future.
“I made it very clear at the last board meeting that we are absolutely not pulling out of Homer. This is more of an opportunity for us to refocus for the long term,” board president Ryan Tunseth told the Homer News on Tuesday. “Homer is too important of an area for us. The kids down there need us and we can provide a really positive outlook for those kids and service for the city.”
Reasons for the board’s decision include the Dec. 31 expiration of its lease for space in the city’s Homer Education and Recreational Complex, HERC, the building’s uncertain future and declining clubhouse membership.
A task force, headed by Kelly Cooper of Homer, has been formed, with its attention directed on developing relationships with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District “where we can set agreements up and build a positive relationship for a long-term location, and really move in the direction of trying to establish some foundation for our club,” said Tunseth.
The HERC, a former middle school, was purchased in 1998 from the Kenai Peninsula Borough for $1 on the condition that it be used for education and recreational purposes. In addition to providing space for the clubhouse, the building in the past housed the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, and some city offices during a remodel and expansion of city hall. An analysis of the building done in December indicated it would cost $10 million to bring the building into compliance with fire and handicap accessible standards.
“There is pressure to upgrade the building and keep it open, but very limited money to do so,” City Manager Walt Wrede told the city council at the council’s regular meeting on April 22.
While the HERC has provided the clubhouse with a great location that includes a gym, Tunseth believes the B&G’s decision will benefit the city.
“The city doesn’t want to kick us out. … I think this will help make their decision easier,” he said.
The building is only one of the reasons for the board’s decision to close.
“The other is that we haven’t come into Homer with a consistent vision of what we want the clubhouse to be in Homer. For that reasons we’ve allowed ourselves to be in a problematic area where we’re starting, stopping, going to do the program, closing. This has been a roller coaster,” said Tunseth, referring to past uncertainties faced by the local club. “We need to step back and not commit anything else in Homer until we know what our commitment is going to be, which is going to take a 10-year plan, how to get there and firm footing with operating in a school or a location that has stability for us long-term.”
Choosing Cooper to lead the task force was “very purposeful,” said Cooper. “That’s another part where we sort of missed interaction with Homer. We just didn’t have the right people talking on our behalf to the right people. We didn’t have the right people delivering the message.”
Task force members also include Tunseth, other representatives from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula’s 10-member board of directors and Sen. Peter Micciche.
The Homer clubhouse currently provides services to an average of about 20 kids a day in first through sixth grade, with the average age about 10 years old. Hours of operation are 3-6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“We see communities that are similar, communities like Nikiski and even Kasilof where the numbers are higher. That’s what’s concerning. We know Homer, based on the demographics, should be in the 50s,” said Tunseth of participation needed to make the club self-sustaining.
Another area being addressed is a perception about the Boys & Girls Club.
“What you hear is ‘yeah, the Boys & Girls Club is there,’ but parents don’t want their kids going there because of the type of kids that are there, the impression of us that isn’t that great,” said Tunseth. “I don’t want to operate in that realm at all. We want people to know this is an environment where life skills are built, that empowers young people to be great.”
Anyone wanting to serve on the task force is asked to contact Tunseth at (907) 398-1233 or Cooper at 299-1519.
“We’re not asking for money at this time,” said Cooper. “Really what we’re looking for is a permanent home for the kids and partnering with the schools.”
“If people want to help or have an idea or input to give to the task force, let us know,” he said.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.