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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 7, 2002 - Issue 69


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Cass Lake Boys & Girls Club to Expand, Remodel

by Molly Miron, Staff Writer Bemidji Pioneer

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CASS LAKE, MN - More than 2,000 times this summer, the door of the Boys & Girls Club of Leech Lake/Cass Lake, 119 Second St., opened to youngsters seeking fun, companionship and a secure environment.

The club has been open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday during the summer. It will reopen after renovations are complete Sept. 16. The renovations are funded by a $23,900 grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation and donations from Home Depot.

"That's 75 kids a day not on the street looking for something to do," said Vern Barsness, one of the volunteers on the work crew. "You touch almost every family that has kids."

"Kids are doing something during the day. I wish I had that when I was younger," said Corey Littlewolf a high school junior staff member at the Boys & Girls Club.

Membership is open to children in first through 12th grades and costs $5 per year. Youngsters who can't come up with the money can pay their way through community service. The club is staffed by two administrators, three program persons, five Americorps volunteers and five junior staff.

The fall program will offer education, arts, sports, health and life skills and service and leadership projects.

Growing project

The club was started three years ago and has grown to more than occupy the storefront building, said Tuleah Palmer, executive director. Now, the club has purchased the lot to the west and is in the process of demolishing an abandoned house to make way for expansion.

Originally, Palmer said, the Boys & Girls Club board had hoped to convert the house into a teen center, but the building turned out to be structurally unsound. She said she hopes to begin expanding the building into the reclaimed lot next spring.

The demolition has been accomplished by a crew of volunteers coordinated by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

Neil Ramsey of Ramsey Construction and Rick Wittner lent trucks for carting off the debris, Barsness provided a backhoe, John Budreau hauled asbestos shingles to a hazardous landfill in Pine Rive and Rick Wuori of Sportsmen's Pizzeria fed the work crew one day.

Teal's Supermarket also turns over 1 percent of grocery receipts for programs. And the Cass Lake School District provides space in the former school for classrooms and gymnasium.

Member involvement

Barsness said the children came to watch the demolition Tuesday.

"They were oohing and ahing when we pushed the building over," he said.

"I think what makes (the club) work is having kids involved in the process," said Palmer.

She said the club members wrote down the programs they want and the things they enjoy in their spare time. Some of the ideas are extreme for Cass Lake, she said, but she puts the requests on the list and takes them seriously.

"They want a swimming pool - tomorrow." Palmer said. "A sports complex, football field, a dome. They're serious. They have floor plans drawn out. If they really want those things, we'll work for them."

The members also take responsibility for their club building, cleaning, vacuuming and maintaining the yard. They have lists of rules to abide by and must stay at the club once they arrive.

They also perform community service, such as odd jobs and bagging leaves for elders.

"It's a pretty remarkable project and a good time in this community to be doing positive things," Palmer said.

The club is chartered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and operates partly with a grant from that organization. Other supporters include the Bureau of Justice, Initiative Foundation of Little Falls, North Country Regional Health Service and federal dollars. About 5 percent comes from local funding, and the club is always looking for other donors, Palmer said.

Child safety is paramount, she said, with staff required to work as pairs and never be alone with children. Staff members also go through a comprehensive background check and undergo drug testing.

Palmer, who has worked with the project in various capacities since the club opened, said the fifth graders who joined then are now eighth grade role models for the younger children. At first, some of these children were the most challenging to work with at first, she said.

"They're 180 degrees, their self-esteem, their self-worth, their trustworthiness," she said of the charter group.

Palmer said she sometimes brings her 4-year-old son, Caleb Countryman, to the club and will enroll him when he is old enough.

Louise Shelley, who worked to initiate the program, said the idea had been kicking around Cass Lake and the Leech Lake Reservation for a number of years. People were talking about a youth club when she arrived in 1990, she said, but the actual organization was difficult.

She cited statistics that show when a Boys & Girls Club opens in a community, crime rates go down. Palmer cited another study in which 52 percent of club alumni said Boys & Girls Club saved their lives.

"I have six kids coming here. It's the right place for kids in Cass Lake," Shelley said.

Welcome to Boys & Girls Clubs in Indian Country.
There is a partnership dedicated to helping some of our nation's most at-risk children - Native American youth - grow, learn, develop, change their lives and surroundings. That partnership is between the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Native American tribes across the country.

Boys & Girls Clubs
In every community, boys and girls are left to find their own recreation and companionship in the streets. An increasing number of children are at home with no adult care or supervision. Young people need to know that someone cares about them.
Boys & Girls Clubs offer that and more. Club programs and services promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence.
Boys & Girls Clubs are a safe place to learn and grow -- all while having fun. It is truly The Positive Place For Kids.

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