Boys & Girls Club cel­e­brates 10 years in new fa­cil­ity

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - PROUD MILESTONES - By Hunter McFer­rin Staff Writer ■ hm­c­fer­rin@gmail.com

This year will mark the 10-year anniversary of when of­fi­cials from the Boys & Girls Club of West­ern Ben­ton County brought their vi­sion of hav­ing their own fa­cil­ity to full fruition, which played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the growth it has seen since.

The Boys & Girls Club of West­ern Ben­ton County be­gan in 1995 and has since changed lo­ca­tions five times, and the fifth time put them in the new fa­cil­ity they are in now, said Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Chris Shimer. For Siloam Springs, the or­ga­ni­za­tion ini­tially started out as a unit of the Boys & Girls Club of Ben­tonville, but in 1997, they de­cided to break away from the Ben­tonville club and es­tab­lish their own or­ga­ni­za­tion and char­ter. When Shimer was hired to take over in De­cem­ber 1999, the or­ga­ni­za­tion was serv­ing about 45 chil­dren in a sin­gle fa­cil­ity, along with a bud­get of only $76,000.

To­day, it has a bud­get of $500,000, five full-time em­ploy­ees, 40 part-time and work-study staff and more than 200 vol­un­teers, Shimer said. In 2017, total mem­ber­ship across West­ern Ben­ton County ex­ceeded 2,000 mem­bers, which is ex­pected for this year. It also op­er­ates four sites in Gravette, De­catur, Gen­try and Siloam Springs that over­see a com­bined total of more than 500 chil­dren per day in their af­ter-school pro­grams.

Other growth the or­ga­ni­za­tion has seen in re­cent months includes in­creased mem­ber­ship in teenagers, as well as in­creases in aver­age daily at­ten­dance, Shimer said. The aver­age num­ber of chil­dren per day in af­ter-school pro­grams across all four sites was 544 in 2017, but for the first quar­ter of 2018, that aver­age has in­creased to 599.

One rea­son that the club will likely con­tinue to un­dergo in­creased mem­ber­ship is due to its low cost, Shimer said. The sum­mer pro­gram cur­rently costs $15 per week, which is on aver­age, prob­a­bly about a third of what other places, such as day­cares, may charge.

“The im­por­tant thing is that peo­ple in West­ern Ben­ton County now have a choice,” Shimer said. “Be­fore, there were some peo­ple that could not af­ford the cost of what they may have to pay in some places, so we pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for those peo­ple to have a great pro­gram for their chil­dren to at­tend in the sum­mer and af­ter school.”

Aside from low costs, the pri­mary, and more os­ten­si­ble rea­son that such pros­per­ity has taken place is the new fa­cil­ity, Shimer said. Since it was built, one ben­e­fit that has re­sulted is the forg­ing of new part­ner­ships with or­ga­ni­za­tions in the area such as John Brown Univer­sity, The Manna Cen­ter and The Ge­n­e­sis House. The fa­cil­ity would likely never have be­come real­ity with­out the help of a suc­cess­ful fundrais­ing cam­paign that was made pos­si­ble with the com­bined help of or­ga­ni­za­tions like these, as well as pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als and businesses in the com­mu­nity.

The cam­paign be­gan around 2003 and in­volved com­pa­nies like Sim­mons Foods and Cobb Vantress Inc., who con­trib­uted a com­bined total of $500,000, said Tony Barnes, a for­mer co-chair for the cam­paign’s com­mit­tee. Although they ini­tially set out to raise $2.1 mil­lion, they ul­ti­mately only raised $1.5 mil­lion, which still was suf­fi­cient for the new fa­cil­ity to be built.

In ad­di­tion to these com­pa­nies, do­na­tions also came from La-Z-Boy and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, such as Pete Allen of Allen Canning Company, who con­trib­uted $250,000 and also served on the cam­paign’s com­mit­tee as an hon­orary co-chair, Barnes said. In ret­ro­spect, Barnes said that he saw a prob­lem that needed fix­ing, and thought that mov­ing lo­ca­tions would ul­ti­mately be for the best.

“I en­joyed do­ing it, it was re­ally needed,” Barnes said. “The old fa­cil­ity was not re­ally a good place, and when I first saw it, I said we have to do some­thing about this and we did, that was it. I think it is won­der­ful that we got it and that it is there, it is much needed in the com­mu­nity.”

The role Barnes played in the fundrais­ing process was in­stru­men­tal, and the even­tual con­struc­tion of this fa­cil­ity would not have been pos­si­ble with­out him, Shimer said. For that rea­son, as a to­ken of grat­i­tude, Barnes was in­ducted into the Siloam Springs Boys & Girls Hall of Fame a cou­ple of years ago.

Among the staff at the Boys & Girls Club is Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Stephen John­ston, a grad­u­ate of John Brown Univer­sity who be­gan work­ing at the or­ga­ni­za­tion as part of work­study pro­gram in 2007 and started work­ing full-time in 2010. Since begin­ning work­ing there, John­ston said that some as­pects of his per­spec­tive of his job have grad­u­ally changed.

“At some point, my mind­set shifted from this is a good, fun job where we are do­ing good work, to I truly feel like ev­ery­day we make a big im­pact,” John­ston said. “We al­ways have had the say­ing that we are the big­gest bus stop in town, but I al­ways like to say that we are not a day­care, we are in chang­inglives busi­ness, not just babysit­ting or ware­hous­ing kids. We re­ally want to teach them nec­es­sary life skills to be pro­duc­tive cit­i­zens.”

Shimer said that while the Boys & Girls Club does have room to im­prove, it cer­tainly has come a long way, end­ing with his per­spec­tive on what the last 10 years have been like for the cen­ter, and how things will con­tinue to be.

“In the last 10 years, we have opened up ad­di­tional sites in dif­fer­ent cities, we have seen our at­ten­dance rise, we have seen thou­sands of kids come through this build­ing that have ben­e­fited from the services we pro­vide here,” Shimer said. “We have seen young peo­ple get their first jobs, and in many cases for a lot of our high school and col­lege stu­dents, we are their first job.

“This build­ing was cre­ated by the peo­ple of Siloam Springs. This be­came a real­ity be­cause of the com­mu­nity, and so it is kind of a sense of pride, and we owe it to the com­mu­nity to take care of it, to take care of the build­ing and pro­vide the very best services we can.”

Hunter McFer­rin/Herald-Leader

Di­rec­tor of Devel­op­ment Decinda Shimer (left) stands with Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Chris Shimer un­der the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sign out­side the front en­trance to the build­ing.

Hunter McFer­rin/Herald-Leader

Kids leave the in­door gym­na­sium and head to their af­ter­noon ac­tiv­ity.

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