Boys & Girls Club of Craig strives to reach older teens with activities — and with choices | CraigDailyPress.com

Boys & Girls Club of Craig strives to reach older teens with activities — and with choices

Club serves teens up through the age of 18, and staff members hope to see more coming in

Michael Neary

— For Erin Fagan, 18, coming to the Boys & Girls Club of Craig as a teenager opened up a world she couldn't uncover elsewhere.

"I got to help the little kids a lot, as a teen, so that was really cool," she said. "Being an only child and not having anyone to look after … some of the kids became my brothers and sisters."

The Boys & Girls Club of Craig admits participants age six to 18 — a fact that's not always recognized. It's also something staff members want to let the community know as people — teens and otherwise — strive to find venues where teens can thrive.

Twelve teens serve as paid junior staff members, including Fagan. Junior staff member Taylor Oxenreider was recently recognized as the Boys & Girls Club of America's Youth of the Year for Northwest Colorado.

But staff members would prefer to see a greater number of older teens coming to the center — including teens who simply want to socialize with each other.

"We would love to get to that spot," said Kari Neuman, unit director at the club. "We just don't really have those high school kids here. I tell the high school staff, 'If they come, we will serve.' If there's high schoolers who want to use the gym, I will totally accommodate that."

Recommended Stories For You

The Craig club's teen director position has moved, within the past year, from part time to full time. Jonathan Waters, 28, has served at that post since April.

One function of the Boys & Girls Club, Waters said, is to put the choice of teen activities into the realm of teens themselves — in a room devoted to teens.

"It's a safe space for them to decide what they're doing," he said.

Waters emphasized that point during a recent community forum, sponsored by the Moffat County Department of Social Services. People at the forum acknowledged that the club is often thought to be a place for younger children.

"We're trying to create a space in which the teens own it," Waters said on a recent afternoon at the club. "This is their space."

The effort to reach teens is not unique to the Craig club. Waters noted that Boys & Girls Club of America has declared 2016 to be the year of the teen. And he described, too, the way the club can offer a place with more flexibility than teens might experience during a traditional school day.

Staff members at the club, Waters said, also work to tap into the types of programs other organizations offer.

"We do have the connections so that we can point them in the right direction," Waters said, noting that he might be able to say to a teen: "You want to be involved in a music production? Nick Cocozzella is running a summer camp this summer."

Waters was referring to an audio production, singer and songwriter camp to be presented at Colorado Northwestern Community College in July. The Boys & Girls Club offers transportation to those camps to members who need it, and CNCC offers financial aid when it's needed.

In addition to the safe space Waters described, the Boys & Girls Club of Craig also offers structured activities for teens who choose to participate.

Neuman mentioned the Torch Club, a service program designed for students in sixth through eighth grades, and Keystone, for high school students.

The Torch Club, Neuman said, weaves public speaking into various sorts of service projects. Members from that club are working on a social action project focused on mental health in the community.

A program called Keystone, Neuman said, focuses on service outside of the club and includes 14- to 18-year-olds.

"This summer, they're going to help our kids with physical fitness every week, building up to, hopefully, a 5K," Neuman said. She noted the students also work on job- and college-readiness activities.

Neuman also noted grants that help to shape other activities. But Neuman, as did Waters, stressed these activities are optional.

"We're all about free choice," Neuman said.

A prime feature of the older teens' experience at the club involves working with younger kids.

"It can really change your life and your view of kids," said Brenda Nunez, 18.

A junior staff member, Nunez said the experience can open the possibility of becoming a teacher, a nurse or another occupation that works with children.

The center also is a place where the older teens and the younger children let loose and have fun. During one recent afternoon, teen director Waters and junior staff member Fagan brought a group of middle school students out on the lawn to test some vinegar-and-baking-soda-powered plastic bottle rockets. A chemistry lesson was tucked into the activity — but as Waters and Fagan joked with the middle school students on the lawn, and as they all watched at least a few of the rockets soar, a social bond was forming.

Seth Ogden, 16, also is a junior staff member at the Craig club. He said working with children helps a teen to "get the sense that it's not just all about them — that there's a community." But he also noted that the club could provide a zone for teens who want to come and find people to talk to about their own lives.

"There's people here who are willing to talk … and it's a safe place to come and share your feelings," Ogden said. "You can feel safe here."

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.