PENINSULA — Concentration is evident on the faces of cousins Sophia Harris and DJ Oswald.
The pink-clad second graders are industriously creating art at the Boys and Girls Club of the Long Beach Peninsula.
When asked about their favorite after-school programs, they’re delighted to share. “I like cooking and making stuff,” Sophia says.
DJ wanders to a side table, returning to display a glued fabric project almost as tall she she is. “It’s still drying. I might hang it on my wall at home.”
She points to the whiteboard where curly letters read, “Question Of The Day.”
“They ask questions about what you like,” DJ explains, “like, ‘what’s your favorite ice cream?’ We all have our own different ones. Mine’s Rocky Road.”
“I love Rocky Road!” Sophia chirps.
Crouched at their table, Jennifer Magneson beams with satisfaction. As executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, her entire focus is on creating a safe, welcoming environment for learning and fun.
But the club faces its own rocky road. A financial one.
That’s why Magneson and her board are appealing for additional donations to keep running.
The club operates an after-school program for Peninsula youngsters aged 6 to 18. But increasing competition for limited grants and foundation money has stretched the group considerably, said Magneson.
The club is also noticing a decline in student attendance since the Ocean Beach School District reconfigured the grade levels in its buildings at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. Of 116 students enrolled in the club, only about half have been showing up this fall. Two years ago, average daily attendance was 77.
Active since 2008, the club operates in a wing at the Ilwaco High School, where attendees can learn cooking in a tiny kitchen and play in a side gym. “We are incredibly lucky that we have such a good relationship with the school district,” Magneson said.
School kitchen staff provide a meal and healthy snack to attendees. The federally funded program is crucial, she said.
“For some of these kids it’s the last thing they eat for the day until they come back in the morning for school.”
The club provides activities like academic enrichment opportunities tied to the STEAM concept — Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics. Time is made available for older students to complete their homework. Computer games that teach math are available. Online use is carefully monitored.
Community volunteers lead activities that have included cooking, pottery, stamp collecting and sewing. Students take guided nature walks around nearby Black Lake.
Magneson, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, has been affiliated with the club for four years, initially as a board member. She used to serve as chief clinical director at Willapa Behavioral Health.
She said while the club enjoys support from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, it does not receive money.
“Many people think because it’s a national organization we must get funding from national, but we don’t,” she said. “We benefit from their name and ‘brand,’ and they provide trainings, but we don’t get money from it.”
She said the $200,000 annual budget covers two full-time staff and other part-time assistance, plus costs for phones, Internet and reimbursing the school district for janitorial services.
Their budget is entirely funded by grants and donations from businesses and individuals. “We are 100 percent self-funded.”
Nationally, Boys and Girls Clubs are prominent in urban settings, often with big budgets, charging significant fees for participation.
Long Beach, one of the smallest clubs in the nation, just has one annual membership fee for students. This has recently been increased from $25 to $50.
“As you can imagine, it takes more than that to provide quality programming in our after-school programs,” Magneson said.
“This is still well below state and national averages for Boys and Girls clubs,” she added. “Many charge a monthly activity fee. That varies by age group, but may be $50 to $175 a month per child.”
The four-week summer program in Long Beach had been free until this year when it was increased to six weeks and a nominal fee added.
Magneson noted that the organization is a club, not a licensed child care facility.
She said studies have shown students who learn social skills and conflict resolution at Boys and Girls Clubs develop better emotionally, have higher self esteem and are less likely to abuse drugs.
There is also evidence that they perform better academically and are less likely to cause behavioral problems, she added.
Chris Jensen of Ilwaco, a board member and immediate past president, agreed that the value to the community is significant.
“It’s a club, so there is security and control,” said Jensen, who has been involved since 2013.
“It’s not like school — kids can do lots of different things.
“It’s much needed in this community, but it takes a lot to run financially. Most people think we are funded by Boys and Girls Clubs of America. They don’t realize how much we rely on the community.”