Phillips boys, girls club gaining youths, losing money

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PHILLIPS – Molly Campbell, 9, waltzed into the old Alumni Gym on Depot Street with a big smile on her face, ready for an afternoon of playing.

Foster mom Bonnie Burnham was a few steps behind her. She would come pick Campbell up from a couple hours at the Phillips Area Boys and Girls Club a little early today, she said. “Don’t get mad,” Burnham said, smiling.

More kids filed in as the afternoon wore on. All smiled wide. The club is the destination of choice for scores of kids from the area, Director Bethany Ricker said Wednesday. But it’s running out of money – fast.

Ricker reopened the club in October. Now, more than 30 kids, from kindergartners to ninth-graders, come regularly. High-schoolers up to age of 18 are welcomed, she said, but tend not to show.

Burnham, who lives in Avon, brings her foster kids in as a way to introduce them to kids in the community, she said. Most of them go to school in other districts.

Campbell enjoys meeting new kids, she said. “It’s fun,” she said, “playing games and getting to play with kids.”

They come for all sorts of reasons, Ricker said. The Boys and Girls Club of America was founded as a way to help disadvantaged kids succeed. In Phillips, Ricker said, she caters to kids of all backgrounds. She even changed the local club’s mission statement to reflect that the club is there for all kids who need it, rather than just those from disadvantaged backgrounds, she said Wednesday.

“My whole life revolves around kids,” Ricker said. As pastor of the local Lighthouse Baptist Church and leader of the church’s children’s ministry, and a mother of three, Ricker has experience working with kids. Perhaps more importantly, she loves it.

When she saw a job opening at the club, after years of working as a stay-at-home mom, she applied and promptly got the job. Now, she works five days a week, including most Saturday and Sunday nights. She provides a place for older kids to hang out – away from parents, perhaps, but not unsupervised. It’s a safe place, she said.

There are games for the younger kids, discussions about life goals for older ones, and positive reinforcement for all.

“I see us giving kids more opportunity,” she said. Charging $15 per year, per kid, the club doesn’t begin to make a profit. She could get away with charging by the day and make money, she said, but then the club wouldn’t be something for everyone to enjoy.

Instead, the Phillips club relies on donations. “I only have funding to last until the end of February,” she said. “After that, I don’t know where it’s going to come from.”

She is hoping for donations, she said. With more money, she could offer more programs. One she is especially excited about would bring teachers in to help kids with their homework a few days a week.

She got up to talk to a group of boys – all extremely polite. “The kids really are very thoughtful,” she said.

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