The Boys and Girls Club of the Columbia Basin started the public portion of a campaign to raise $1.5 million for a new clubhouse.
The group is planning to construct the 10,700-square-foot building next to Park Orchard Elementary School on Paxson Drive in Moses Lake. The building will feature community, learning, art, teen and activity centers and is estimated to cost about $2.8 million.
The new clubhouse will help children avoid being recruited by gangs, Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna said at the event.
“This is a problem throughout our state,” he said. “This is not an Eastern Washington problem, a Yakima problem, a Grant County problem; this is happening everywhere.”
Law enforcement’s responsibility is arresting the leaders and separating them from the community, he said, adding police succeeded in the late 1980s and early 1990s in combating this problem.
“So successfully, when the South-Central L.A. gangs were infiltrating up to Washington state, that many jurisdictions shut down their gang units,” he said. “So we know one of our goals has to be to cut off the head of the snake.”
Organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club become important in stopping recruitment, McKenna said, adding gangs are recruiting children at younger ages. Leaders do this to avoid longer prison sentences.
“Somewhere in the state, one young person is shooting another young person,” he said. “I’m sick to death of reading headlines in Washington news stories that say, ‘Teenagers killing each other, wounding each other, harming innocent bystanders.'”
The children have substituted gangs for families, McKenna said, adding people are waging a battle for the hearts and minds of children.
“Particularly those that are most vulnerable to this kind of recruitment – kids who are poor, kids who are homeless, kids who come from single-parent households or no-parent households,” he said. “We have to understand that there are bad guys out there actively working to win them over, to use them and then dispose of them.”
He said people need to be better than the gang members at getting children’s attention and loyalty.
“That’s why I’m so intensely devoted to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Washington State,” he said. “They are doing an outstanding job in communities all across our state in developing programs that bring the kids in and keep them.”
McKenna is working on trying to bring clubs to other parts of the state, saying he points to the Boys and Girls Club of the Columbia Basin as an example of a successful organization.
“This is the first new clubhouse to be built in a while, over here in Eastern Washington; in fact, in the state,” he said. “This is a big deal … It’s a big deal because it’s better to own than rent, because having a building really means something.”
He also pointed to the club’s partnership with the Moses Lake School District as another important step.
Campaign Manager P.J. De Benedetti said the club has the opportunity to impact children’s lives. The group wants to create new programs, but is constricted by the size of the current facilities.
“There really isn’t any space at either of our facilities for kids to get involved in any good physical activity, even during the summertime because there are no grounds and, in the wintertime, there is no gymnasium,” he said.
He also pointed out the new facility would be integrated into the neighborhood, and the neighboring school.
“Brant (Mayo, the club’s executive director) was aware of a program on the West side where they had done a partnership between a Boys and Girls Club and a school and built a Boys and Girls Club on an elementary school property,” he said. “We went over and visited it, and it was working just great, so we started talking with the school administration and school board a little bit about the idea.”
The school board approved, and the planned clubhouse would share 15 acres of land, sports fields and school facilities, he said.
“It just so happens during the times when we’re serving kids in the Boys and Girls Club, the kids we’re serving are the kids that went to the elementary school that day,” he said.
De Benedetti said the biggest challenge is raising the money. The group has gone to service clubs, members of the Boys and Girls Club board of directors and campaign committee.
“I’m happy to report we’ve been very successful in that area. We’re at 90 percent of our goal with service clubs,” he said. “If we’re able to get to the folks we’re having pretty good success.”
For more information, contact Executive Director, Brant Mayo at 509-764-9694.