Sharing their passion

Volunteers make for well-rounded Boys & Girls Club experience

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Bill Sawer rounds up two teams, and they all head out the back door to a bumpy dirt field. They pull on red pennies and wait for the blow of the whistle.

"I just love the sport," 10-year-old Aaron Cramer said.

He and a few other Boys & Girls Club of Craig members are learning to play soccer from Sawer, a longtime coach. It's just one of the many programs offered through the club, thanks to the time and skills of community volunteers.

"I just love the game, and I love to watch these kids play," Sawer said.

He started playing soccer at age 27 and thinks it's great to see youths learning the game.

"The only time you have time is as a kid," he said. "I want to give these kids a chance to have fun playing soccer."

Although volunteers and children enjoy themselves, Boys & Girls Club staff members say there's more behind their motivation than a good time.

Nationally, the club embraces five core program areas: character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts and sports, fitness and recreation.

"Everything we do somehow fits into one of those," Americorps volunteer Mike Fraher said.

Everyday club operations in----clude a recreation room with pool, foosball, bumper pool and air hockey, a computer lab and open gym. Sports such as soccer and dodgeball also are played. The programs volunteers teach make the after-school program more well-rounded, Fraher said.

The club invites math and computer-program tutors to help youths develop new skills.

"We want to be able to supplement and complement what the schools are doing," he said.

And this fall, as attendance rises, volunteers are increasing, too.

"We've always had some volunteers. We've always tried to get those people in," Fraher said. "I think this fall, it's really starting to come together more."

Kelley Bailey, whose 7-year-old son, Tristin, is a member, is one of those volunteers. On Wednesday, she was helping youths construct homemade bird feeders with poster board, peanut butter and birdseed.

"What an incredibly neat program," Bailey said about the club. "Anytime I can help out, I'm all over it."

But not all volunteers are parents. Alejandra Ledesma, 14, is teaching kids how to dance salsa and reggaeton, or the Latin equivalent of hip-hop.

"I thought the kids would enjoy it and would learn about another culture," she said.

Jamie Choi, 10, takes the class because she wants to be a dancer when she grows up. She said working with Ledesma is like dancing in physical-education class at school, but having a young instructor is fun.

"It helps because she doesn't boss me around," Choi said. "I like learning from her because she's very good at it."

Fraher said that connection is important.

"The more adults that we can get in here and expose the kids to, the better," he said.

By offering digital photography and kempo karate classes, children have a chance to learn new skills and find someone whom they can look up to.

"Another thing is, our staff couldn't very well teach kempo," Fraher said. "We might not be as good at soccer as Bill is. Volunteers are able to come in and teach their skills better than we are."

Fraher said the club can use volunteers as often as they would like to assist. They can play with the children one hour a month or lead a program once a week.

"We're really willing to use volunteers however they want to be of use," he said. "We'll let volunteers come in and do whatever they want to do, as long as it fits into one of those five core values."

And the members seem to love the opportunity for extracurricular fun.

Fraher said Smart Girls, a program focused on health and self-esteem for 8- to 12-year-old girls, is one he knows members do not want to miss.

"They must be enjoying it," he said, "because it'll be 3:30 on Monday, and they'll be like, 'Will there be Smart Girls today? Because I want to go.'"

Sawer feels the same way.

"I can tell they like it," Sawer said. "They keep coming back."

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