Boys & Girls Club takes a hit

The Chico Unified School District will not be collaborating with the nonprofit next school year, leaving the club high and dry

Jessica Starkey, Chico campus director for the Boys & Girls Club, stands amidst a gaggle of third- and fourth-graders busily finishing up homework hour.

Jessica Starkey, Chico campus director for the Boys & Girls Club, stands amidst a gaggle of third- and fourth-graders busily finishing up homework hour.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

How to help: It costs about $1,200 to serve one child for one year at the Boys & Girls Club. To make a donation, log onto and click on “Ways to Contribute.” Parents can also lobby their kids’ principals to continue to send kids to the club.

This is a tough time for Maureen Price. The CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the North Valley has bittersweet feelings about leaving her post at the end of June to be with her new husband in Sacramento. What’s harder, though, is seeing the organization she’s worked so hard for over the past 13 years lose steam.

Earlier this month, Price announced that the Teen Center camps in Paradise would be closed this summer due to lack of funding. During an interview on Monday (May 17), she explained the even more dire situation of the Chico club. She’d just been informed that the Chico Unified School District would no longer be partnering with the Boys & Girls Club beginning with the 2010-11 school year.

If you walk into the Boys & Girls Club of Chico in the after-school hours, the expansive building is bustling with kids. About 200 of them. They’re doing homework, playing pool or chatting with each other and staff members they’ve grown to know over the years.

Come fall, however, this scene could be drastically different. That’s because the CUSD has decided to sever a six-year relationship with the nonprofit, which includes a funding stream of about $335,000 a year.

“We understand that the Chico Unified School District is in a world of hurt,” Price said. “This was a shock, but not a complete surprise.”

Price was referring to the fact that, over the past 18 months, the Boys & Girls Club and CUSD have been in negotiations for a new contract. In fact, this past school year saw a decrease in students being bused from CUSD schools to the club, as the district hoped to keep more kids on campus each afternoon.

“We took an $80,000 cut this year,” Price said. “This takes us to zero.”

Currently, 180 students are bused from six local elementary schools to the club each afternoon. Another hundred come from junior-high and high schools and meet up at the Teen Center, located just a hop, skip and jump from the main campus’ hub at Sixth and Wall streets.

Price was emphatic when she said the club would remain open in the fall, but her optimism dwindled when she tried to imagine exactly how it would have to transform to make that happen.

“We will stay open, and we will stay true to our mission,” Price said. “But this will look very different.”

The issue is a complicated one. There’s the matter of funding, for example. It comes to CUSD in the form of two separate grants—the state-run ASES (After School Education and Safety program) and the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. Both provide money for after-school enrichment. ASES is noncompetitive, but the 21st Century grant is awarded only to high-poverty or low-performing schools. As a result, not all CUSD campuses receive this funding.

What changed this past school year was the nature of the other funding CUSD had for after-school tutors and summer school that was called “hourly programs.” When the state, in response to its budget crisis, opened up many categorical funds to be used in any way individual school districts saw fit, this money fell into a bigger pot. This summer will be the first year CUSD will not offer summer school.

In response to reallocating the categorical funds set aside for after-school tutoring, CUSD decided to give school principals the option of keeping kids on campus or continuing to send them to the Boys & Girls Club. Elementary principals were scheduled to meet Wednesday (May 19) and secondary principals will meet today (May 20) to discuss the matter. Both Janet Brinson, director of educational services at CUSD, and Price pointed to Fairview High as a likely candidate for sticking with the club, because of the strong leadership program offered.

“We’ve had to revisit how we’re serving our kids,” Brinson explained. She emphasized, however, that “We’ve never been unhappy with the services at the Boys & Girls Club. They offer different things for at-risk kids than we do, and we want to support that.”

The reality, however, is that if none of the local principals decide to send their students to the Boys & Girls Club after school, the district’s funding will go from $335,000 to zero. The club augments the district money with fundraising, which equals about $400,000 a year but is split up among all the clubs in the North Valley.

“We empathize with the district and what they’re going through,” Price said, adding that she believes the Boys & Girls Club can offer more for less money than the school district can. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

Jessica Starkey almost broke into tears during a recent interview at the Boys & Girls Club. As Chico campus director, she’ll feel the brunt of the cuts in the form of losing kids she’s cared about for years as well as having to fire staff, many of whom were members as kids and came back to return the favor.

Starkey led a meeting with parents last week, explaining to them what was going on.

“Our families took the call to action,” she said. “The biggest concern was, ‘Where will my kids go?’ But we also had parents who said, ‘We’re both at home—give [a spot] to someone who needs it.’”

Angela Barajas has two children in the Boys & Girls Club after-school program. Jenna, 14, and Veronica, 11, have both been members for about five years. Next year, however, neither will attend because their schools—Pleasant Valley High and Bidwell Junior—won’t qualify for the grants. But Barajas knows how much they’ve benefited from both academic help and social interaction at the Boys & Girls Club.

“It introduces the children to different people,” she said. “My daughter goes to Rosedale, and 90 percent of her friends are going to Chico Junior next year, but she’s going to Bidwell. Because of the Boys & Girls Club she already has made some friends.”

Brinson highlighted that all the kids who are currently being served by the Boys & Girls Club will be offered a space in an after-school program at their campus. But parents will still have the freedom to choose whether their child is better served by the club or an extended-learning day. Currently there are waiting lists for both.

“We have two more weeks before we may never see these people again,” Price said. “The hard part of it is when we think of our kids. How do we decide who can come and who can’t? A lot of them really need what we offer.”