CEDAR RAPIDS — The former Polk Elementary in northeast Cedar Rapids still plays a big part in the lives of about 100 boys and girls and their parents every school day.
“It means a lot, because they’re open at a time when people who work can make it to work,” Patrice Brown said. “For working people, it’s very convenient.”
Brown’s son, Tavian Harrison, is one of up to 120 children attending the Boys & Girls Club of Cedar Rapids’ programs at the former school, one of the non-profit’s five program locations across the city.
Brown, of Marion, begins and ends her workdays at Polk, dropping off Tavian, 9, before school and collecting him about 6 p.m.
Born of necessity after the June 2008 flood destroyed the Boys & Girls Club’s headquarters and rec center at 1501 Ellis Blvd. NW, the scattered-site strategy has built participation to above pre-flood levels.
“Our school (year) numbers are starting to meet our summer numbers, which is exciting,” Executive Director John Tursi said. “Right now we’re in a good situation. We’ve got a lot of good partners.”
Tursi and a small administrative staff have offices at the Sister Mary Lawrence Center, 420 Sixth St. SE, while programs during the school year operate at:
It all adds up to more than 300 children most weekdays during the school year, compared to about 185 pre-flood. Summer programs draw even more children of working parents who need a safe place to spend the day.
“The numbers are certainly still there,” Tursi said. “We’re just scratching what could be done.”
The group’s Ellis Boulevard building took on about 13 feet of water during the flood, wrecking its indoor pool and gymnasium as well as materials staff had moved to the second floor. The club took $249,457 for the building in May 2011 under the city’s buyout program. The club also received $95,000 through the Jumpstart flood-recovery program.
Tursi said there are no plans for a replacement.
“For the club, losing our building on Ellis was bad because it was ours and we could do what we wanted,” Tursi wrote in an email. “(But) it was an old building that needed a lot of work to really become highly functional. So when we sold it we got a good deal of money for a building that was going to need a complete overhaul. The money from the sale has allowed us to gain a reserve that we hadn’t ever had before. Pre-flood we lived month-to-month.”
On a budget of $1,669,585 for the year ending June 30, 2011, the most recent for which information is available, the club paid 30 staff members and up to 60 during the summer. The Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service shows the club raised just more than $1 million, and spent $566,954 on salaries and $284,630 on other program costs.
Boys & Girls Club membership is $12 a year. There’s no charge for children in the free school lunch program. Tursi said no one is turned away, and about 80 percent of club members attend at no charge.
The club coordinates programs to complement other groups’ work at shared sites, as at the Polk Center where Young Parents Network sponsors parenting classes and a day-care program, and Tanager Place has classes and counseling. The school district conducts some special education and alternative classes there and prepares the morning and evening meals under contract to Boys & Girls Club.
“It definitely makes things a little bit easier for us, instead of running to come and get them at their school,” said Dedric Roundtree, a Cedar Rapids teacher with three children in Boys & Girls Club programs at Polk. “It gives them a chance to do homework, and run around a little.”
The club’s three vans deliver children from Polk to their Cedar Rapids schools in the morning, and from the after-school sites back to Polk about 5 p.m. At all sites, Boys & Girls Club staff help with homework and lead activities, with an emphasis on social development.
“When you don’t see me down here, that doesn’t mean you’re running around, doing whatever you want,” staffer Alicia Strong, 23, reminded about two dozen buzzing youngsters one recent afternoon in First Congregational’s lower level.
“Is we going to see a movie today?” one girl, who was 7- or 8-years-old, asked Strong.
“Is we?” Strong asked back.
“Yeah, are we?”
“That’s right,” Strong said. Two children stayed behind for homework help from another staff member as a line formed, noisily, drawing another warning.
“Once again you guys are wasting your time,” Strong said. “If you are a leader, you have to show me you’re a leader and you have to walk without talking.”
“I think our people are the best professionals in youth development,” Tursi said. “That’s what we do.”
Development continues with teenagers at the Salvation Army center, where “we get them in waves,” staffer James Nash said. “We get them right after school, then some kids leave. Then we get them after football and volleyball (practice).”
“I learn a lot,” said Philip Huse, 12. “They keep at me to do my homework, they help me with it, and I learn a lot.”
“My friends go here, we get to play cool games,” said Dontae Diggins, 15.
Older members earn points for participating in club programs that can be redeemed for snacks or beverages, or banked for major prizes such as laptop computers and MP3 players. The group attends high school games together in season and goes on camping trips or other activities otherwise.
One recent afternoon, Nash, 28, sat down with members of the Torch Club, for those in sixth grade or above, to discuss Boys & Girls Club’s new concessions trailer. Half the proceeds from Torch Club fundraisers go to another local charity, but members can use the rest for an activity.
“You guys are going to start generating ideas about where you want to take it on the weekends,” Nash said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for you to make some money. If we make enough money we can really take a nice trip.”
Torch Club members performed more than 500 hours of community service this year, Nash said.
“It’s that village mentality,” Roundtree said as he waited for his children at Polk. “It takes a village to raise up these kids, and we’re doing it.”