The club in Greenwood where the King County Boys & Girls Clubs began is making a comeback owing to the kind of creative thinking that got it going during World War II.
In King County, separate clubs now share resources so they can serve children no matter where they happen to live. And the clubs are incorporating the latest in research to help them help children. And what started as a boys club now includes girls.
The North Seattle Boys & Girls Club began with out-of-the-box thinking by a King County sheriff’s deputy who figured he could fight crime by giving boys something better to do with their time.
It was late 1943, many parents were off at war, others were working long hours helping the war effort, and lots of kids lacked supervision.
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The story is that a huge brawl at North 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue North involving more than 100 boys was the catalyst, but there was constant trouble in the area. The deputy, Sgt. Joe Woelfert, kept hearing from teens who were hanging out on his beat that they had nothing better to do.
Other parts of the nation had boys clubs, but his was the first here. It started in an old bar, then in 1946 the club moved into a building at nearby 87th and Fremont.
It’s changed names several times, but it’s still there (celebrating its 70th anniversary July 20), and now it’s one of 14 club sites and 24 child-care centers in the King County Boys & Girls Clubs program, which is the third largest in the nation, serving about 16,000 children.
Deputy Woelfert was proved right when crime dropped dramatically in the area, and soon other neighborhoods followed his example and when there were eight, they came together to form a county organization.
The programs were centered on sports and character building, which is still important, Joan Caldon, the North Seattle club’s director, told me. But the mission has grown and broadened along with the organization.
She and Calvin Lyons, president and CEO of the county organization, told me about the changes. One of the biggest was allowing girls into the clubs in the 1970s and changing the name. Now the organization, like many groups that serve children, is crunching data to track outcomes and improve programs, and involving younger and younger children in order to deepen its impact on “academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and citizenship.”
Caldon started working with kids at the club in Greenwood 17 years ago when she was a high-school senior and discovered she loved it. “Kids are fun. They’re carefree and open to learning. I like that they’re so honest,” she said.
She’d intended to become a singer, but her vocal instructor told her she was wearing out her voice working with kids and needed to make a choice; she chose the kids.
She got a degree in early education and another in human services. She’s worked at other clubs, but kept coming back to the Greenwood site.
Two years ago when she came back to run it, the program was at a low point. The old building itself had been in such poor condition that it had to be closed for several months for renovation. She pointed out all the windows where there had been none before. The club was serving only 20 children a day when she took over; now it serves more than 100 a day.
She brought back sports programs that had withered. There’s football, soccer, basketball and more. A group of middle-schoolers were packing up for a camping trip the day I visited. During the school year, there is homework help after school with tutors from the University of Washington. In summer, the club has programs to keep students from losing what they learned during the school year, and every day, children spend 45 minutes reading. There are also programs targeted at different age groups and interests.
Caldon started an outreach program to bring in children who live in motels along Aurora Avenue North. A partnership with the University of Washington School of Social work provided an intern to do the outreach work.
She’s pleased that the club, which draws participants from as far north as Shoreline, has a rich mix of children and no ethnic or economic group is a majority, and the children learn from each other in ways that would not be possible in a less-diverse program, she said. They get to talk about things like skin color in a safe environment.
Every club is different, which used to make a larger difference in its programs than it does now. Lyons, who became president and CEO last year, merged the finances of the member clubs.
Caldon, who worked at the Mercer Island club before coming back to Greenwood, said that now her club doesn’t have to scrounge for the basics.
Lyons said the clubs in higher-income areas are glad to share with other clubs because they all want to help children.
“The kids are going to run into each other in middle school, high school, or college,” he said, so it benefits everyone if they’ve all learned the same skills and code of conduct.
That’s how Deputy Woelfert saw it. Helping the kids who need it most, makes for a better community for everyone. It’s good to be reminded of that.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday.
Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org