Boys & Girls Clubs opens door for kids in Brewster

Welcome. Great futures start here.

Dozens of kids, loaded with backpacks and homework, were greeted by those messages Monday when they walked into the newest club run by Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County.

It’s not in Everett or anywhere nearby. Monday was opening day at the Brewster Boys &Girls Club. It’s the latest in a growing number of clubs run by Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, which is based in Everett.

Brewster is northeast of Wenatchee in Okanogan County — three and a half hours by car from Everett. Sustained by the fruit industry, it has a large population of Spanish-speaking families. The surrounding region was devastated by last summer’s Carlton Complex wildfires.

Until this week, the town of about 2,000 people had a community center but not the money to keep it open. There wasn’t much for kids to do after school.

“Even in this small town, when doors close kid problems increase,” said Bill Tsoukalas, executive director of Boys &Girls Clubs in Snohomish County. The organization was first involved in Brewster when it brought a Cal Ripkin Sr. Foundation baseball clinic to the town four years ago, Tsoukalas said.

Through talks with Brewster officials and the support of Gebbers Farms, a longtime orchard business there, an agreement was reached to open the Brewster Boys &Girls Club at the center.

Along with clubs here, the Everett-based organization also runs the North Kitsap Club in Kingston. And in 2013, it became the umbrella organization for the Warm Springs Boys &Girls Club on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in north central Oregon.

“Brewster and Warm Springs are two different initiatives,” said Tsoukalas, who spoke by phone Tuesday from Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was there with Les Parks of the Tulalip Tribes attending a conference with Boys &Girls Clubs of America officials and tribal leaders.

There is now a division, Boys &Girls Clubs in Indian Country, that is working to increase the number of Native American clubs, he said. The first was launched 1992 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, “in response to poverty there,” Tsoukalas said. “The Tulalip club was the sixth one in 1997, funded by the Tulalip Tribes,” he said. “It was organized under our umbrella.”

With the Tulalip club as a model, Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County has funding from the national organization “to open conversations with interested tribes in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.” The local group took over the Warm Springs club when Boys &Girls Clubs of Portland had a leadership change and could no longer oversee that tribal club, he said.

Soon, the organization will help start a new Boys &Girls Club on the Colville Indian Reservation, either in Inchelium or Ford, near Grand Coulee, Tsoukalas said. Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County is also in talks with the Spokane Tribe of Indians to open a club at Wellpinit, northwest of Spokane.

A Tulalip tribal elder, Don Hatch Jr., has been hired by Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County “to open doors to tribes here in Washington,” Tsoukalas said. He and Hatch have visited tribes around the state.

“It’s a win-win,” said Tsoukalas, adding that the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation will financially support the club there, as will the Spokane Tribe if a club opens there.

“Our board of directors is very open-minded about reaching out to kids outside our traditional geographic boundary,” Tsoukalas said. In the long run, he said, the club here will be helped. Grant money from the federal Department of Justice helps support Boys &Girls Club programs. “We get more than our fair share in partnership with Boys &Girls Clubs of America when we reach out beyond our borders,” he said.

“I am very proud of the Boys &Girls Club initiative to reach out to Indian Country, not only in Washington state but nationwide,” said Mel Sheldon, who will take over April 4 as chairman of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors. Sheldon also praised Hatch’s role as a liaison to other tribes.

“The Tulalip Boys &Girls Club is such an asset,” Sheldon said. “Not only does it bring kids in before and after school, it brings parents together. When you bring a family together in any setting, success will follow.”

In Brewster, April Ashworth was busy Tuesday helping kids with “power hour” to get homework done, and with snack time and games. As unit director at the new Brewster club, she counted nearly 80 kids in the facility that has a gym, a multipurpose room and quiet area.

Jon Wyss stopped by the Brewster club Tuesday. He works for Gebbers Farms as an analyst and in government affairs. The company is leading fund-raising efforts for the Brewster club.

“For us, this is a four-year dream,” Wyss said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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