Salazar stumps for kids

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— Attorney General Ken Salazar tossed his campaign hat aside and picked up some bean bags in support of the Craig Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday.

Although the candidate for the U.S. Senate lost a game of bean bag toss, the visit was a win for the newly opened Boys and Girls Club.

Salazar swung through Craig on Wednesday during a tour of Northwest Colorado. His campaign stops in Meeker, Steamboat Springs and Walden were billed as "conversations with Coloradans," but his visit to Craig was attorney general business, said Mark Messenbaugh, director of the Partnership for Youth Development, a branch of Salazar's office.

Salazar didn't mention his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. Instead, he spoke of the importance of quality after-school programs for Colorado's youths and lauded community leaders for supporting the new Boys and Girls Club.

Salazar, the state's chief law enforcement officer, joined "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" five years ago. The group has worked to open after-school programs such as Boys and Girls Clubs in cities across the state, including Grand Junction, Salida and Durango, as well as Craig.

"The most effective thing we can do as a law enforcement community is early childhood education and quality after-school programs," Salazar said.

But Salazar downplayed his role in the spread of such organizations.

"Basically, I'm a cheerleader," Salazar said during an invitation-only luncheon at the Holiday Inn.

"It's wonderful he had the forethought to see this through," said Patti Askew, wife of Pres Askew, the Craig Boys and Girls Club founder.

Salazar's visit came eight business days after the club opened at East Elementary School. As of Wednesday, the club had 116 members, said Jim Dodd, interim executive director of the club.

Salazar's visit began with a visit to East Elementary School, where the Boys and Girls Club meets from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays.

At the school, Salazar and Craig Mayor Dave DeRose lost a lighthearted bean bag tossing competition to two club members.

He then spoke at the luncheon at the Holiday Inn before about 50 people who had been invited as thanks for their involvement in starting the club.

This visit was a happier occasion for Salazar than a visit he made four years ago, shortly after the Columbine school shooting. He was at Craig Middle School after students thwarted an attempt by classmates to bring a bomb to the school. Salazar met the students who turned in their classmates, and he commended them on their bravery.

"We know we have a lot of pain and challenges with young people ... we have to realize tremendous faith and optimism in our future," Salazar said.

Salazar is running against Colorado Springs educator Mike Miles for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Grand Junction Republican Scott McInnis.

If he wins the primary, he will face beer magnate Pete Coors or U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer -- depending on who wins the Republican nomination -- on election day.

The Boys and Girls Club should move to its intended permanent location at the Old Armory east of Craig by mid-September, if building renovations are finished on time, Pres Askew said.

But the club's organizers are hoping renovations are done in time for the school district to open an alternative school in the Old Armory by the beginning of the next school year. Moffat County School District Superintendent Pete Bergmann announced the plans at the end of the luncheon.

The school will be for at-risk and expelled students, as well as those who simply don't fit the school's mold, Bergmann said. The plans will be presented to the Moffat County School Board at their meeting tonight, he said.

Also at the luncheon, Isidro Arroyo gave the club $1,000, which had been raised during his family's annual golf tournament.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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