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Boys & Girls Club sees official opening at community center


The instant the ribbon is cut at the official opening and dedication of the Boys & Girls Club of Nespelem where children, family, club staff, and Colville Tribal Council Members were in attendance. Pictured from left are, in the back row: Blue Ray Pakootas, Ashlyn Sam, Ava Sam, Mick Perman, William Labro, Payton Ostenberg, Blayne Picard, Alexiah Pakootas, and Hailey Pakootas; in the front row: Joe Ingoglia, Larry Allen, Susie Allen, Shielah Cleveland, Michelle Paul Jane, Ayden Moore, Makaylah Murphy and parent Jody Pakootas. - Jacob Wagner photo

Local school-aged children finally have more to do in the area, thanks to the Nespelem Boys & Girls Club.

The Nespelem Boys & Girls club had its official opening and dedication Wednesday, Nov. 29, in the Nespelem Community Center gym.

"This has been a long time coming," said Colville Business Councilmember Larry Allen. "A lot of us grew up with just dirt and sagebrush to play with. We have to give [the children] resources for success."

"It's a wonderful program; it's working so well in Inchelium," said Councilmember Susie Allen. "It's going to make a significance to our youth."

The Boys and Girls Club in Inchelium is given partial credit for the school there being removed from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's priority list for underperforming schools, a list Nespelem Elementary is currently on.

"It's an opportunity for our kids to get that added support to complete their homework, so I think it's really going to help in their whole learning process," said Tammy James-Pino, employment and education director for CCT. "I just like that kids can come here and participate in a wide array of activities and events, and I think it's really good to see the camaraderie between the students."

James-Pino continued: "I just want there to be a safe place for our kids to go to participate in various activities centered around holistic wellness, whether it be getting them involved in cultural activities and using it to bring some of our culture back to our communities, whether it be for physical fitness activities, I think it's really good that we can get kids involved in physical fitness early."

James-Pino said that juvenile diabetes and other health issues run rampant in the area.

The Nespelem Boys & Girls Club had a soft opening in the summer, and has grown to have 231 school-aged children sign up, averaging 50-60 attending each day.

"Our numbers keep growing," said Director Michelle Paul Jane.

In the summer, activities included hiking, gardening, swimming, and more. Now that the school season has started, the club runs from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays, incorporating indoor activities ranging from basketball to crafts to getting help with homework.

"We have a time period called 'power hour,' and that's the time to really see where their gaps are," Paul Jane said. "If they need homework help, we give it; if they are below reading or math or whatever, we help them get there."

"I really like, too, that they're partnering with the local school districts, meeting with teachers and superintendents, and we're not trying to compete with other after-school programs. We're really trying to build those relationships so they can help each other, so sending staff members there and vice versa," James-Pino said.

Most of the children signed up are of elementary age, but Jane said they are working on having a space just for teenagers to draw them into the club.

A bus takes children from Nespelem Elementary to the club, and another bus takes children from Lake Roosevelt to the club, but there is not yet transportation provided from the club.

"We encourage parents to talk to each other and carpool," Paul Jane stated. "Down the road, we really would love to provide more transportation."

The club is always interested in volunteers to help share "anything that you are passionate" about with the kids, Paul Jane said. "We want to expose these kids to diversity. We just had somebody approach us about indigenous comics, and that's a new thing that's growing. To show that to our kids would be so cool."

"We do beading," Paul Jane continued. "Vanessa Cawston volunteers, and the kids just love it, even the boys."

Another volunteer is interested in teaching the kids to skin deer hides and tan them. Then the kids could go beyond that and make drums or something else with the product of their new skill. "That would be really useful for our kids because it's cultural and it's a skill, something they could take with them," Paul Jane said.

Bill Tsoukalas, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County attended the opening. The Boys & Girls Club of Snohomish County is involved with 23 clubs under their guidance, including Nespelem, ensuring that the clubs are operating under the policies and procedures of the Boys & Girls Club of America.

"We get [the kids] engaged with fun things, but then get them involved with important things: homework, nutrition, exercise, community service, leadership activities, counseling, to stay clean, don't bully, all of that," Tsoukalas said.

Kids line up for food following the ceremony opening the Boys & Girls Club at the Nespelem Community Center. - Jacob Wagner photo

Also attending was Joe Ingoglia, director of organizational development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, who came to Nespelem from Olympia to attend the opening.

"The pride and commitment that the community has shown, in ensuring that every child has an opportunity to make the most of their lives, is incredibly inspiring," Ingoglia said later in an email, commenting on the sponsorship of the Colville Tribes.

Children in the club who attended said that going to the club is "way better" than just staying home.

Several people in attendance expressed interest in establishing clubs in Keller, Omak, and the Grand Coulee Dam area, as well.

The Nespelem club has two full-time employees, and three part-time employees who are full time in the summer.

All school-aged children are welcome to join the club. For more information, call 509-634-2140.

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