It’s Friday afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club in Ukiah and the kids are taking advantage of the high heat to experiment with solar cooking. Using solar ovens they created, made from recycled cardboard and plastic wrap, children bake cookies outdoors.
According to BGCU CEO Liz Elmore, this is just one of the many lively activities taking place on the club’s summer program. “I’m so happy with my staff and the kids. The staff really engage the kids with so many activities and projects, art, garden, cooking and music, ”said Elmore. “I just find that exciting.”
As the summer program passes halfway through, BGCU is also halfway through its annual fundraiser, sponsored by The Ukiah Daily Journal. They hope to reach their goal of $ 45,000 in the coming weeks in order to have sufficient operational funding for the remainder of the year.
In addition, the fundraiser covers the expenses of adequately training new staff so that they can work with children in the community. Of the current 11 club staff, the majority are brand new and require continuing education throughout their employment.
“With COVID and everything that was going on in 2020, we weren’t able to have our annual fundraiser, which was a financial shortfall for the Boys & Girls Club,” says Elmore. Despite the challenges, she credits new staff with the responsibility of giving the children at BGCU the orientation they need.
A dedicated member of the club staff recently took on the task of teaching the kids useful cooking skills. Although teaching cooking to children has been done sporadically in the past, this is the first time that a full-fledged cooking project has been launched.
Much of the produce that children handle in the kitchen comes from the club’s garden, to help them better understand how to eat healthy and to show them practical ways to do so.
For now, cooking does not involve heat and focuses more on blending and other basic cooking skills. As the group grows and becomes more stable in the kitchen, the hope is to introduce more complex recipes and eventually to cook with heat.
The staff’s ability to lead children in tightly run projects is primarily due to the club’s extended hours during the summer, which run from 7.45 a.m. to 5.15 p.m., Monday through Friday. When school is in session, staff are limited to five hours of after-school interaction where academics are prioritized appropriately.
There is still an hour dedicated to academics daily called Brain Gain, which focuses on reading, STEM projects, and writing. However, the time the children spend at the club during the summer session allows for a variety of other activities.
“It gives us the opportunity to have small independent groups that really focus on children’s emotional health and healthy lifestyles, healthy eating and healthy choices,” Elmore explains. There are nearly 90 kids attending the club this summer and as new restrictions open up Elmore expects more to sign up.
Over the past few weeks, another remarkable project has taken off, led by staff member Angela Lebert. Lebert strives to develop BGCU Bath Bomb Store with eight active club members. The store is centered around the Boys & Girls Club Money Matters program, with the goal of teaching children how to start a small business.
The children involved have been brought together in a council and are responsible for making all of the important decisions for the store. So far, they have researched products and evaluated production costs against potential sales revenue.
As the final store will be entirely child-generated, apart from the initial seed funding, the store’s revenue is also under the supervision of the children. They will be able to determine what to buy with the funds, such as a computer program or a new game for BGCU.
Elmore concludes, “It’s fun to see. The staff are really growing and taking on such strong leadership roles. They are able to share this with children to help them learn more about leadership and take on leadership roles on their own.
Donations for fundraising can be sent to BGCU, PO Box 67, Ukiah 95482 or Ukiah Daily Journal, 617 S. State St., Ukiah, CA 95482. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, donations cannot to be deposited in-person.