Two months ago, Mason started going to the Monroe Boys & Girls Club every day. The Park Place Middle School eighth-grader is getting help with his homework, made new friends and found adults he could talk to.
"This is somewhere I can have fun and stay away from trouble," Mason said.
Mason is one of dozens of new members who are filling up the halls of the club, located at 261 Sky River Parkway.
Since September, the club has had an increase in teen attendance with 45 teens on a daily average. This is double from last year, said Marta Miller, program director for the club.
About 140 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade use the club throughout the day. There are no official numbers, but preliminary data from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County has Monroe with the largest teen attendance of all the 17 clubs in the county.
It is unknown why attendance has grown. Miller believes teens have discovered the USDA food program, where the club provides after-school snacks. The program started last year, but it wasn't until now that it's become popular.
It also could be that teens see the center as a safe environment.
"I think that's the biggest thing," Miller said. "They have so many struggles at school and home. Here, they are accepted, they have friends and can receive help."
Having a big attendance is causing the club's costs in staff and lunch to increase, resulting in a bigger need for donations.
The club also is trying to have more activities that cater to teens. Before, there were teen nights every now and then. Now, it's important to have them the last Fridays of every month, Miller said.
For Boys & Girls Clubs Area Director Marci Volmer, the big difference has been a consistent staff that has formed relationships with the teens.
"When there are positive relationships, they continue to come and bring their friends with them," Volmer said.
For Ricky Laffey, 14 and a freshman at Monroe High School, the Monroe Boys & Girls Club is a place he can make a fresh start.
He said he lost the trust of his parents last year when he got himself into trouble.
"I am gaining that trust back by coming here," Ricky said.
Jessica Washington, 13, has been coming to the club for about a year. An eighth-grader at Park Place Middle School, Jessica likes having a quiet space to do her homework, and a place to play basketball and volleyball.
She said the club has helped her become more sociable, do better at school and make friends.
"Without the club, I would probably be in town getting into trouble and with my dad not knowing where I was," Jessica said. "Because that is what I used to do."
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; email@example.com.
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