Blooming BGC a popular choice for kids and teens

Published 10:25 am Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s quiet at the Boys and Girls Club of Blooming Prairie headquarters.

That’s because it’s only mid-morning. Mary Sherman-Ahrens, the director, has just arrived, and there is paperwork and planning to do. The peace and quiet is to be relished, because it will all change dramatically when 3 p.m. comes around.

“That’s when the action begins,” the director said. “When school’s out, the kids arrive. It gets pretty noisy here when all the kids arrive. It’s a happy scene.”

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The BGC is so popular that children don’t want to leave when the headquarters must close for the day.

“It happens all the time. Kids will say ‘I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here,’” she said.

Obviously, families are getting their money’s worth — only $10 a year — for sending their children and teens to the Boys and Girls Club of Blooming Prairie.

Sherman-Ahrens joined the BGC in July 2007 as youth development professional. She was promoted to interim director and became director in July.

The BGC is a branch of the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester and was created in 2005.

The BGC branch is headquartered in the former Minnesota Migrant Council building originally owned by the Rev. Paul Halloween, former priest at St. Columbanus Catholic Church in Blooming Prairie.

It survives mainly on donations supplemented by grants, plus generous financial assistance from the United Way of Steele County.

Sherman-Ahrens has four adult part-time paid staff, plus a crew of energetic Blooming Prairie High School teens, who assist with the Power Hour, a homework help-focused program targeting specific age groups with enrichment courses.

The goal for every child and teen is to “Stay Above the Line,” according to Sherman-Ahrens, who said the vast majority have no problem accomplishing that behavioral goal.

According to Sherman-Ahrens, the BGC serves children and teens ages six to 15, who participate on a regular basis. They are nearly evenly divided by gender. The majority are in the six to nine years of age bracket.

The BGC is open four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Blooming Prairie subsidizes bus transpiration for the BGC youths from Blooming Prairie schools to the headquarters November through March.

Parents retrieve their family members, when activities conclude.

Summertime (non-school hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The latter is when the BGC headquarters closes during the school year.

According to Sherman-Ahrens, there are 131 active children and teens who belong to the organization. An average of 30 to 35 participate each day.

The curriculum of learning and activities is varied. It includes the Power Hour’s homework help, an hour each day, plus others including “Smart Shots” about decision-making, art, Junior Engineers and chess, and physical fitness. Gopher Sports of Owatonna donated new equipment for the fitness center.

Scouts lend a hand

Local Boy Scouts of America offer a “Club Scout” program and area 4-H leaders also visit to add to the programming.

There is also a “Career Path” segment that offers older youths advice on choosing a path upon completing high school.

According to Sherman-Ahrens, there are positive reinforcement activities such as Torch and Keystone clubs within the BGC.

The center will hold its biggest fundraiser of the year Feb. 21, 2009, when it sponsors the annual gala.

“We enjoy good cooperation from the Blooming Prairie schools,” said Sherman-Ahrens. “I attended parent-teacher conferences recently and recruited four more children to join.”

“We enjoy a good profile in the community,” Sherman-Ahrens said. “In part, that’s due to the regular column we have in the Blooming Prairie Times newspaper, where we tell the public about the activities we are enjoying.”

“Among the students who come here are the children of teachers and others in the community,” she said. “The parents also give us a lot of support.”

If the BGC has a need, it is more space.

In its short history in Blooming Prairie, it has won over the community and rural area around — some children come from as far away as Waltham in nearby Mower County — with an ambitious program of activities, character building and positive reinforcement.

When school is out for the day and the children and teens arrive for snacks, learning and fun, the building seemingly shrinks.

The gift of fitness equipment from Gopher Sports of Owatonna was a “good thing.” However, the equipment is tightly backed into a small room that doesn’t allow all the freedom of movement needed.

“It would be nice to have a basketball court,” Sherman-Ahrens said. “A place where we can do more activities the year around, but particularly in bad weather and winter.”

Recently, when a Halloween party was held at the BGC headquarters, 61 members attended with 90 non-members: 151 children and teens total. “It was the wildest scene ever,” Sherman-Ahrens said.

The BGC branch is exploring the possibility of acquiring more land for an expansion, according to the director. The decision will be made by the BGC’s advisory board headed by president Chairole K. Williamson, branch manager,

U.S. Bank Blooming Prairie and a resident of Austin.

Williamson is an out-spoken sup-porter of the BGC.

“I often think of how fortunate the citizens of Blooming Prairie are to have a Boys and Girls Club in their community,’ she said. “I am proud to be part of an organization that does so much for our youth.”

“The club provides homework help and programs for kids of all ages and interests, and the parents have the peace of mind that their children are safe and cared for by trained professionals whose ultimate goals are to help them be successful in school and beyond,” she said.

“The success of the Blooming Prairie Club does come with it’s challenges, the more kids that attend the higher the need for volunteers and financial support. There is a definite need for more space and the board will be working on a capital campaign to help resolve this issue.

Until an expansion happens, Sherman-Ahrens and her staff will do their best with the resources they have.

“I love it. I love what I do,” Sherman-Ahrens said. “The kids are wonderful, the staff works hard and we have a lot of support in Blooming Prairie.”

“The Boys Club of America has produced some outstanding Americans,” she said. “People like Denzel Washington, Martin Sheen, Morgan Freeman. It could happen here.”

Fifty-four children and teens arrived Tuesday for late-afternoon fun, socialization and learning.

For more information about the Boys and Girls Club of Blooming Prairie, contact Sherman-Ahrens at (507) 583-5599.