Local youth organization directly benefits from OSU community support

Oregon State volunteers are crucial to the survival of the Corvallis Boys & Girls Club, as are donations from OSU faculty and staff. (contributed photo)

Dollars donated by Oregon State University staff and faculty during the annual Charitable Fund Drive directly impact local non-profits in major ways. Each year, the campus community donates more than $100,000 through the fund drive, benefiting organizations focused on art, the environment, children, health and other causes with personal significance for donors.

This year, donations are still 21 percent behind last year’s total. Organizers are hoping that a last minute spurt of donations starts the new year off right, and helps the campus meet or surpass last year’s total of $118,400. Only 230 OSU employees donated last year, and this year the total has shrunk to 176 so far.

The benefit of supporting a local non-profit goes far beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling of generosity. For the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis, which depends on donations to meet 50 percent of its budget needs, keeping the doors of its organization open means safer streets, better educated kids, and a stronger sense of well-being for working parents around the community.

Founded in 1971 as a sports organization, today’s Boys & Girls Club is far more than a place to play basketball. The club offers after-school youth development programs in every public elementary school in Corvallis, providing a safe space for kids to remain, and to get academic and social support, after school ends each day. Additionally the clubhouse on Circle Boulevard offers drop in and regular after school programming, as well as all-day programs when school is not in session.

Students served range from kindergartners to high schoolers from all socio-economic levels, including some students identified as homeless, and many children of professionals from OSU and elsewhere around Corvallis.

“I’ve heard the perception that this was just a place for poor kids,” said Todd Simmons, Boys & Girls Club board member and associate vice president for University Relations and Marketing at OSU. “But I see OSU colleagues in the parking lot every day when I’m dropping my kids off.”

Serving thousands of local kids each day is not an easy task, but director Helen Higgins says a strong board and a very focused agenda has kept them above water when other Boys & Girls Clubs, including recently one in Eugene, have closed their doors.

“It comes down to good business practices,” Higgins said. Anticipating the downturn in the economy, the board made sure to put plans in place to adjust for the coming financial strain early on. “It’s no super-secret magic. You need to make the adjustments before you must make them. If you wait until you must, it’s already too late.”

According to Higgins, the Corvallis Police Department and Benton County Sheriff’s Office reported a 50 percent drop in the Corvallis crime rate when the club opened its doors, and recognize the group as a way to keep gang activity down and provide a stable environment for at-risk youth.

But the organization doesn’t just keep kids off the streets when their parents are at work. A constantly evolving set of academic offerings includes everything from financial literacy classes to art, choir to a journalism group. Many programs are made possible by a huge crew of volunteers, including a large portion from OSU.

Liz Connor, volunteer coordinator, said 25 interns from OSU have given more than 5,500 hours to the organization in 2010. Additionally, 150 volunteers who claim some affiliation to OSU contributed 1,800 hours in 2010. Connor said not everyone who is associated with OSU makes the connection know, so she estimates the hours are actually much higher.

“There’s no way we could offer the programs we do without thousands of volunteer hours,” Higgins said.

Volunteer activities range from engineering faculty and students participating in Science Friday in after-school elementary programs, to Army ROTC students working as chaperones at one of the clubhouse’s many middle school dances, which each attract between 350 and 500 students.

On the annual Day of Caring event this year in Corvallis, 60 OSU students did cleanup at the Lincoln School “Lion’s Den” which is operated by the Boys & Girls Club, as well as cleaning up the Clubhouse.

“We have a lot of partnerships with OSU,” Connor said. “It makes my job really easy.”

In the coming year, the Club is focusing on a new goal, to dramatically increase the number of high school aged students who regularly come to the Clubhouse. Thanks to two new grants, they’ll be expanding their existing high school space to meet the growing participation of high school members. The teens will be directly involved in the remodel and design of their new space.

A bigger goal set out for the board is to grow an endowment so that the club will continue to thrive well into the future.

“We must get to a place of sustainable funding,” Higgins said. “It’s our biggest priority. We feel that as the year-round youth organization for the community, it is an imperative to grow our funding model in a direction that ensures consistent and reliable revenue to sustain services regardless of the current economic situation. By growing our program endowment to a significant level, this will guarantee that future generations of families and children will have access to the vital services of the Club. This is a legacy that the board and I want to leave for our community.”

The 2011 Charitable Fund Drive at OSU runs through Jan. 30. Donate to your favorite charity by going to http://oregonstate.edu/charitablefunddrive/ or by sending your personalized form to 2011 CFD, 100 LaSells Stewart Center

To find out more about the Corvallis Boys & Girls Club, go to www.bgccorvallis.org or call 541-757-1909.

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