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New Boys and Girls Club opens in Ronan

November 25, 2018

The sawdust was flying as volunteers worked long hours last week, wrapping up one the final construction before this week’s grand opening of the new home for the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County.

The project, spanning more than two years of fundraising and a full year of demolition, design and renovations, officially ends Tuesday when Executive Director Aric Cooksley will open the doors to the community’s new after-school hot spot.

“The Boys and Girls Club has, for well over 100 years, been kind of a standard by which a lot of after-school programs have been measured,” Cooksley said. “We have an awful lot of kids that they view us as their second home.”

Located north of downtown Ronan off U.S. 93, the 19,000-square-foot facility once housed a large furniture store.

Its steel superstructure and open crawlspace underneath made the building perfect for repurposing as a clubhouse, allowing builders to move walls where needed and access the plumbing and wiring with ease.

The facility will feature two computer/learning labs, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) space, an art center, recording studio, separate recreation spaces for elementary and high school age groups, a full commercial/teaching kitchen, pottery studio, wood shop, mechanical workshop, playground, sports field, pools and garden.

Children and teens from ages 6 to 18 can take advantage of the free programs and meals offered throughout the school year from noon to 6 p.m. every weekday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday during the summer.

At full capacity, Cooksley said, the center will accommodate more than 200 kids, offering a multitude of educational and social programs while serving an expected 50,000 to 60,000 meals and snacks a year.

“With every kid that walks through our doors, there’s three priority outcomes that we want to accomplish,” Cooksley said.

The team first aims to help students achieve academic success and a nurture a love of learning.

“Our goal is really to help them thrive academically, but also to give them opportunity for discovery-based learning where they can learn to love learning,” Cooksley said.

Second, he said, they aim to instill character and leadership development through peer leadership and adult volunteer mentoring.

Finally, the program promotes healthy lifestyles by addressing every facet of the kids’ lives, including physical, nutritional, social, relational and mental health.

The Boys and Girls Club of America began over 150 years ago with a mission of providing after-school programs for kids to help teach skills that would equip them to improve their lives and communities.

This February marks Cooksley’s fifth year working with the Boys and Girls Club. He sees his job as the ultimate opportunity to combine his passions for working with and teaching kids and acting as a community partner.

“From a personal standpoint, it’s really rewarding,” he said, “but from an organizational standpoint and a community standpoint, it’s been awesome to see what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

The Boys and Girls Club chapter in Ronan will turn 20 years old next year, and Cooksley said he has watched it grow and improve rapidly in recent years.

The new clubhouse came with a price tag of just over 10, $20 a month makes a big difference, because all of those people coming together, that makes a really strong foundation.”

In addition to current programs and new additions brought in by community members, he plans to help his volunteers stress college preparation and family-building programs that will equip students for their future and families for their students.

For many of the children who walk through their doors, Cooksley said, the club means the difference between eating and going hungry, between a limited view of their future and a wider vision of opportunity.

For more information about the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County, visit the organization’s Facebook page.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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