Edmonds Boys & Girls Club is ‘figuring it out’ for local children

  • Sue Waldburger<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 12:03pm

“We’ll figure something out” is a phrase frequently uttered by Bill Dalziel .

The words makes sense in light of the jury-rigging, making-do and tight-rope-walking the director of the Edmonds Boys &Girls Club regularly performs in his job as mentor, teacher and father figure to the 100 children who tumble through the clubhouse doors or participate in its off-site programs every day.

The 62-year-old Dalziel, who has logged 30 years with Boys &Girls Clubs, runs the club located at 310 Sixth Ave. N.

The local unit is part of the Everett-based Boys &Girls Clubs of Snohomish County and the national umbrella organization. It’s been in Edmonds since 1968, serving children from ages 5 through 18.

The Boys &Girls Clubs’ stated mission is to inspire and enable young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens. Dalziel said that is accomplished locally by a staff with a heart for kids and who are not afraid of “noise and a little dirt.”

The Edmonds club headquarters is a vintage two-story building with a jazzy paint job that essentially is leased rent-free from the city of Edmonds. Although the building’s history is sketchy, Dalziel said it once served as a field house for the old Edmonds High School, which has found new life as Edmonds Center for the Arts.The land on which the building sits is owned by the Edmonds School District, which leases it — and the surrounding Civic Field — to the city for a token sum. “The city has been really helpful” in helping the club with property maintenance, Dalziel said, but budget cutbacks by the city have forced the club to take on more of the upkeep.

The club began, according to Dalziel, as a traditional neighborhood club where youngsters congregated after school and on weekends. As single-parent families became more prevalent and more mothers entered the work force, creating a generation of “latch-key kids,” the club’s focus changed, he continued. The emphasis switched to building life skills and being a place where youth were drawn to during those lonely hours before and after school, Dalziel said.

There are just over 1,000 registered club members in the organization that is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day but Sunday. Many of those children are considered at-risk, but not for the reasons one might think, Dalziel said.

“At-risk” does not mean “kids from the ghetto,” he explained. Sure, kids from unstable homes and with obvious personal problems figure in. But so do children from low- or high-income families whose parent or parents work outside the home.

“All these kids still come home to an empty house,” Dalziel said. “In higher-income families, parents may give kids money and no help with what to do with it … leading to poor decision-making.”

Twenty-three percent of the Edmonds’ club members are from single-parent households. Thirty percent qualify for free or reduce-price school lunches.

The club figures it spends an average of $350 per member a year; membership cost is $20 per person. If the membership fee is too much, Dalziel said, “We’ll figure something out.”

Activities at the Edmonds club range from always-popular team sports to a new clown school. Programs include an introduction to good decision-making for 5-and-6-year-olds to Passport to Manhood, a class in which boys are taught good nutrition and personal hygiene, selecting a wardrobe and in general how to be a gentleman. There is a similar program for girls, too.

Perhaps the club is best known in the community for its summer camps and before-and-after-school programs at area elementary schools and club headquarters. “We wrap the Boys &Girls Clubs’ philosophy” of developing character, hope and opportunity around those programs, Dalziel said.

It is the fees from the camps and out-of-school programs plus membership dues, funding from organizations such as United Way and donations that make up the club’s $500,000 annual budget, Dalziel said.

Those dollars are stretched every which way to cover constant repairs to the old building and programs to meet ever-increasing demands, he said.

Problems with over-flowing toilets prompted the local director to recently ask local business leaders for help with plumbing improvements. Not long ago the hot-water tank broke and flooded an activity room. The floor of the second-story basketball gym is peeling up and winter wind whistles through windows which have separated from their warped wood sashes.

Dalziel said demand for the computer lab, which is housed in a dark and cramped room, outstrips the club’s ability to provide enough hardware and supervision for it. He also would like to see space dedicated to teens, a high-risk group with a need to have their own space.

Dalziel said a new clubhouse “realistically, five or six years down the road” tops his wish list. “Edmonds deserves a new facility for its kids,” he added.

He said he would, though, like to see more local businesses and individuals step forward now with support for current needs as well as big future ones.

The Edmonds club doesn’t have “as high a profile as it should have,” Dalziel admitted. It’s the “best-kept secret in Edmonds,” he continued, adding that dollars that could be used for marketing “goes for kids.”

But acknowledging that the profile of the club may have to be raised to attract more support, Dalziel — to no one’s surprise — cheerfully promised, “We’ll figure something out.”

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