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April 7, 2013
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Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley fills need

There’s a story staff likes to tell that really puts the benefits of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley into perspective. And it transcends the games and security and many activities the club offers its 1,000-plus members.

It’s about the food and the 50,000 or so meals — called “snupper” — the club cafeteria provides each year.

“I had this little girl in my office because she had taken an extra meal,” explained the club’s Executive Director Kris Besson. “I asked her why and she told me that it’s all she had to eat that day.”

That alone seems reason enough to keep the doors of the Northeast Cedar Street facility open, but the club offers its members and the Roseburg-area community it serves so much more. In fact, its roots began in the spring of 1998 from a need to address juvenile delinquency.

“There was a juvenile justice summit,” explained Besson. “The undersheriff at the time (Harry Mullins) said there was an increase in juvenile crime and that there really was no deterrent to kids getting involved in crime. They also discovered that the juvenile probation officers were overworked and that there was a shortage of after-school activities.”

Founding club board member and director of the Commission on Children and Families Gillian Wesenberg was on that task force. Former county Commissioner Joyce Morgan and former Roseburg schools Superintendent Lee Paterson were also instrumental in the club’s birth.

“It was kind of the whole gamut,” recalled Wesenberg. “There was no detention center and really nothing to keep the kids off the streets. We wanted to have a system where kids could do something productive.”

“Our focus was on the critical time from when the kids got out of school to the time their parents came home from work,” said Morgan, who served on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners from 1989 to 2004. “The county had some drug task force money set aside, and we worked on the prevention end, keeping kids on the right track. The goal was to have a Boys & Girls Club, but there was a lot of work to do in advance of that. We had to find a building and get the right people together.”

The building eventually came in the form of what had been Grand Slam USA, an indoor facility filled mostly with batting cages. When it closed, the owner agreed to lease the building to a nonprofit group, and it became known as the Douglas County Family Fun Center.

Retired Oregon State Police Trooper Steve Barnhart, who would become the club’s first director, was also in the middle of the grass-roots effort to provide a safe place for kids. “It was a Drug Free Community grant that helped develop an after-school program,” he said. “We hooked up with Tom Nelson, who was running the nonprofit Douglas County Fun Center, and he and his board agreed to let us develop a program through the grant.”

Barnhart and Melanie Prummer, who is now director of Battered Persons’ Advocacy, were hired to run the program. “I was to manage the project, and she (Prummer) was to bring the kids in,” Barnhart recalled. “Lee (Paterson) got it worked out where the school buses would stop at the club to drop the kids off. We eventually got the batting cages out and Cow Creek donated a basketball court.”

By the time it was chartered by the national Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 2001, the Roseburg facility was serving more than 200 kids per day, according to Barnhart.

“When the representatives from the Boys & Girls Club first visited us, they didn’t like the facility,” he said. “There was only one way to change their minds, so I got a map, marked where all the schools were located and took them for a ride. I showed them where all the bike trails were and showed them that the club was almost dead center of the city and that the kids could get to the club on the bicycles pretty easily.”

Paterson helped persuade the state to offset a chunk of the cost of busing the members from school to the club.

“They agreed that because it was still part of the school day, they would cover 70 percent of the cost,” he said. “It took a lot of people pulling in the same direction.”

The club would eventually agree to run the sports programs for Roseburg’s elementary schools and Pennsylvania native Besson was hired as its first sports director. “I had a degree in rec management, and I was with the Girl Scouts for 18 years before I joined the club,” she recalled. “Youth development was in my heart.”

Over the next 12 years, the club would continue to grow in numbers and in programs. The two-story facility saw nearly 51,000 visitors last year alone. While membership dues are only $51 per year (less than $1 per week), it costs much more to provide the many programs (and meals) the club provides. “It will take $805,000 to run the club this year,” said Besson, who followed Barnhart as director in 2003. “We’ve also been working on an expansion for the past seven months.”

That expansion is designed to better secure the clubhouse, redesign the flow of the parking and complete the second-story renovation, which will allow the club to better serve its teen members.

“It’s an investment in our kids,” said Besson, describing the club’s core. “Many of our members come from nontraditional families and more than 35 percent come from homes where the household income is less than $28,000 per year. At the end of the day, where would these kids be if the club wasn’t open?”

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The News-Review and on the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley. He can be reached at 541-947-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.

“I had this little girl in my office because she had taken an extra meal. I asked her why and she told me that it’s all she had to eat that day.”
-- Executive Director Kris Besson.

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The News-Review Updated Apr 9, 2013 01:04AM Published Apr 8, 2013 07:13PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.