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Archive for Saturday, April 16, 1994

YOUTH CLUB CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY

April 16, 1994

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The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence is celebrating 20 years of helping Lawrence youths.

Steve Anderson walked into the office of the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence with a blue T-shirt in his hands.

Anderson, a staff member of the club, had removed the shirt from a 9-year-old boy who was playing kickball just outside.

The front of the shirt celebrating a basketball team was harmless enough. Anderson was concerned about the three initials on the back indicating affiliation with a local gang.

The boy said an older acquaintance had given him the shirt. Anderson supplied the boy with another shirt and stashed away the blue T-shirt until the boy's mother could pick it up.

Not all children at the Boys and Girls Club are borderline gang members. But there's no question that the club keeps many youths off the street and out of trouble.

This week is National Boys and Girls Club Week, and the Lawrence club observed the week with several special activities.

Tuesday was "Bring a Friend Day." Thursday was "Invite a Teacher Day." And today, children were scheduled to clean up Mary's Lake and hold a pizza party.

The club, 1520 Haskell, has been serving Lawrence youths for 20 years. John Alesch, executive director, said 534 children ages 6-18 are members of the club. About 90 youths can be found at the club each weekday afternoon. The club also is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

About 60 percent of the club's funding comes from the United Way of Douglas County. Other revenue comes from the Rice Foundation and private donations.

On Wednesday, 11-year-old Colleen Caldwell was at the club doing her reading homework. Helping her was Kansas University student Heather Siegel, one of the club's 50 volunteers.

Nikki Weismiller, 8, told why she liked the club.

"The library is fun because of the games," Nikki said.

She explained that every Tuesday, the children go to the library to watch two episodes of the PBS show "Ghostwriter." The program allows children to help solve mysteries.

"I've figured it out before," Nikki said.

Other youths might be making crafts in the art room, playing pool in the recreation room or shooting hoops outdoors.

John Nelson, 17, said he became involved with the club around age 10. Now a part-time staff member, Nelson said the club helped keep him out of trouble.

"I used to be real mean to people," said the Lawrence High School sophomore and member of the school's champion football team. "Now I listen to what people have to say and share my opinions on how I feel."

Nelson also credits the club for helping him develop his athletic skills.

Nelson is the Lawrence club's 1994 Youth of the Year. Gov. Joan Finney will announce the state Youth of the Year April 29, and that person will advance to regional competition.

Part of an essay that Nelson wrote for the competition might explain why the club has attracted so many members:

"I could go to any staff and talk to them about anything that was bothering me and they would try to solve it if they could."

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