Where the boys and girls are

Kids run up to greet Roosevelt Rumble as he walks amid what he calls the “controlled chaos” of the Boys & Girls Club of Oak Harbor.

Each week more than 150 children, mainly middle school-aged students, swarm to the Roller Barn — the Boys & Girls Club facility — after school to get help with homework, roller skate, play games, eat snacks, use the computers, participate in special programs, and most importantly for them, hang out with friends.

“At home I would just be there by myself,” said 14-year-old Jody Latenbresse, who was doing homework with a couple of friends Monday afternoon. This is her third year of coming to the club after school. “It’s fun. There’s a lot more to do here.”

Lisa Johnson, who was on roller skates Monday, agreed. “It’s a place where we can all hang out and have fun,” the 13-year-old said.

Rumble is director of the Boys & Girls Club, which officially became a chartered member of the national organization last May. Previously, the group was called Partnership with Youth. The club, which serves kids 8 to 18, is currently more than 500 members strong and growing.

This Saturday, community members will get a chance to help the club continue to grow with organization’s major fund-raiser of the year. The fifth annual “Bids for Kids” event is a semi-formal dinner and silent auction. Island Thrift is matching all bids and donations up to $30,000.

While Rumble is able to offer many exciting programs, he said funding is always a limiting factor. This year his goals are to put on an exciting spring break program, run a summer program that takes in more kids, increase staff, increase club hours, provide transportation and offer more after-school snacks for kids.

“This year we are going to keep it fresh and exciting for the kids,” he said. “Every day should be something new.”

It’s a lot to hope for, but Rumble and other adults involved in the club agree that there’s definitely a need in the community for high-quality youth activities.

“There isn’t a whole lot for kids to do here,” said Dan Russell, a Navy man who runs the club’s Friday night Neutral Zone activities. “Without the Boys & Girls Club, a lot of these kids would be lost.”

Part of the intent of the Boys & Girls Club, Russell said, is simply to get kids off the street — where they can get into trouble — and give them something fun and productive to do. In that way, the club is a important benefit to the community at large. But on top of that, the club offers special programs to help kids build self confidence, encourage health, help students with school work, prevent drug use and even find them jobs.

The club’s core is the after-school program, which runs Monday through Thursday, from 2 to 7 p.m. Staff member Kylee Allen, a student intern from Skagit Valley College, runs some of the activities for the program. “It’s great,” she said. “I get to see their faces when they find out that I have in store for them.”

Rumble refers to Allen and a couple other of the club’s five staff members as “puddy” because “they fill in anywhere.” Allen recently brought a group of girls to an anti-tobacco conference as part of the club’s “substance abuse and drug-free program.”

There’s also the popular Neutral Zone, which Rumble describes as a “safe place for kids to hang out every Friday night” from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Middle School. On average, about 200 kids show up and are supervised by five adult volunteers and two off-duty police officers. There’s basketball, games, crafts and the biggest draw of all — free food donated by Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and other local restaurants.

Other club activities include:

* The Summer Program. During the eight-week program, kids get to go swimming, bowling, go-karting and participate in other special events.

* Smart Girls. The program is a health fitness, prevention, education and self-esteem enhancement for girls.

* Power Hour. The tutoring program is run at the middle schools on Tuesday and Thursday, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

* The Cleaning House Project. The community service program allows high school and college students to earn community service credits.

* Job search. The program is designed to help teenagers to find jobs.

* Safe Night. The monthly event, in collaboration with the Elks Club and the Department of Drugs and Alcohol, provides a social event for young teens in a drug-free environment. There’s a live DJ, a dance contest and other activities.

Rumble said that the combination of local support and grants keeps these many programs up and running. Membership to the Boys & Girls Club is just $10 a year, which he said funds only a small portion of the $150,000-a-year budget.

Yet while there is plenty of research and studies out there that show the great benefits of programs like the Boys & Girls Club for youth, for Rumble it’s all about the interaction and reaction he gets from the kids. This particular Monday afternoon, he is all smiles and seems to know the names of the all children who swirl around him like a happy madhouse.

“I would quit, I wouldn’t do it anymore,” he said, “if I didn’t get the feedback from the kids.”

Make a bid for a kid

The Boys and Girls Club of Oak Harbor is presenting its fifth annual “Bids for Kids” fund-raiser Saturday, Feb. 7, 5:30 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. All proceeds from the event go to support the club’s programs for children.

This year the semi-formal dinner and silent auction will features the “Diamonds in a Glass” raffle. Participants can win a three-stone diamond necklace donated by the Jewelry Gallery.

The auction will include valuable items donated by local business and individuals, including custom travel and hotel packages, original artwork, professional services, handcrafted items, themed baskets, sports activities and tickets, children and adult parties and much more.

Island Thrift is matching all bids and donations up to $30,000.

To reserve a table, call the Boys & Girls Club at 240-9273.

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