Boys & Girls Club celebrates 10 years in new facility
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.”
Director of Development Decinda Shimer (left) stands with Executive Director Chris Shimer under the organization’s sign outside the front entrance to the building.
Kids leave the indoor gymnasium and head to their afternoon activity.