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'This is a serious time for serious people': Boys & Girls Club celebration features challenges, coveted award

John Miller, senior vice president of field services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, was the keynote speaker at Thursday night's appreciation dinner for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Detroit Lakes and Perham. Miller flew into Fargo all from Atlanta, Ga., to speak at the event. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)1 / 2
Detroit Lakes High School Counselor Sara Pender and Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Patrick Petermann with the Wellstone Legacy Award, which was presented to the club Sunday night at the Minnesota School Counselors Association convention in Brainerd. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)2 / 2

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Detroit Lakes & Perham are doing some great things, as the burgeoning membership at both sites will attest.

On Thursday night, staff and supporters of the clubs gathered at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes to celebrate their successes, as well as to talk a little bit about what's in store for their future.

"We are one club with two units, passionate and united in our mission," said Staci Malikowski, president of the Perham club's advisory council, who also sits on the corporate board of the Detroit Lakes club.

"By working together, we see the success of cooperation and the opportunities it brings to all of our kids," she added.

"There is nothing greater than making an investment in our youth," said Ron Mueller, president of the Boys & Girls Club's corporate board. "They are our hope, they are our future."

He cited the Perham club as "the best example I can give of making a committed investment," noting that he has "watched in amazement" as the club has grown its daily attendance to roughly equal that of the Detroit Lakes club, despite having just started up in 2011.

Mueller went on to say that the Detroit Lakes community would need to make that kind of continued investment in its club in the coming year, as they will soon embark on a capital investment campaign to build a new facility.

Though unable to attend Thursday's gathering, Jim Clark, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, gave a video presentation that detailed the need for a new facility in Detroit Lakes.

"The last 10 years, the number of registered members at your club has increased by 45 percent," Clark said. "In 2016 alone, the club served more than 40,000 meals and snacks to young people. Today, nearly 600 young people, more than a third of which come from a single parent home, one out of every six have noted behavioral issues, learn how to become team players, how to work hard, how to win, and sometimes, how to lose with grace.

"They're all inspired to fulfill their potential and achieve our priority outcome areas of academic success good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles."

He said that the Detroit Lakes club is "part of a national movement" that includes 4,300 clubs, serving nearly 4 million kids.

"For 60 years, the Boys and Girls club has served the youth of Detroit Lakes," Clark continued. "However, they have an opportunity to serve even more — through a $6 million capital campaign, this organization will be able to build a new facility that will be nearly 2½ times as big, with the opportunity to provide even more services to the young people who need us most. To do that, they need your help... the investment you make in the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes will provide hope and opportunity for generations of young people to come. And as a result, hundreds more children and teens in your community will be able to benefit from the club experience."

"The cat's out of the bag," said Mueller, referring to the fact that the club has not yet publicly announced its capital campaign plans. "It's no easy task. No building project is easy. It's hard work."

Mueller then noted that the campaign rests in the hands of a committee comprised of 18 community members, which will be chaired by Jim Vogt and Mary Brenk.

After this presentation, Detroit Lakes High School counselor Sara Pender spoke about the Detroit Lakes club being the recipient of this year's Wellstone Legacy Award from the Minnesota School Counselors Association.

"At a recent visit to the Boys & Girls Club I was made aware of all the great things they are doing for the youth in our community," she said. "They serve an average of 144 students in their after school program each day, with a 12-to-1 student to staff ratio. They provide a snack and an evening meal to those kids, and turn noone away.

"However, they are not just providing a place to be," Pender added. "They are providing arts and crafts, physical activity, homework help and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities. In addition to the students that attend, they encourage families as a whole to also get involved. They have Family Nights with various activities and field trips all year long. During the summer they plant a community garden that families are invited to care for and then take that produce home in the fall. The staff at the Boys & Girls Club can only be described as exemplary. They give 110 percent each and every day, working for the best for their students. Students know they are cared for and valued."

"To get this is an honor," said the club's executive director, Patrick Petermann. "They don't give this (award) every year. You have to meet stringent criteria to receive it. The last time it was received by a local organization was in 2009 — our very own Lakes Crisis & Resource Center."

This presentation was followed by presentations from Jocelyn Jiminez, the 2017 Youth of the Year for the Detroit Lakes Boys & Girls Club, who is a freshman at the Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center; club alumni Samantha Hanson, who was the recipient of the Youth of the Year award in both 2011 and 2014, and has gone on to seek her degree in social work, specializing in child welfare; and Cindy St. Claire, whose family has provided a home to over 50 foster kids from the area over the past eight years — which she said she couldn't do without the assistance of the Boys & Girls Club.

The keynote speaker for the evening was John Miller, senior vice president of field services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, who flew into Fargo from his home in Atlanta to be part of Thursday's event.

He began his presentation on a humorous note, saying, "This is not my first time in Detroit Lakes... the first time, y'all tried to talk me into jumping into a frozen lake. I saw no reason to come back."

He joked that when Petermann asked him to come back and present at this evening's celebration, "I had to check the calendar."

Miller first shared some sobering statistics, followed by some more hopeful ones.

"I wanted you to listen to some numbers for an average day in the life of kids in this country," he said. "Today, 12,800 children were suspended from school. Today, 2,800 students decided to drop out of school. Today 3,600 teens were arrested; today 385 of those kids were arrested for drug problems... 167 of them were arrested for violent crimes. Today 48 were injured by handguns... seven died from those injuries, and today six kids decided to take their life."

Miller added that this cycle was likely to continue, because "today, 1,100 kids were born into extreme poverty, and today, 1,900 kids were confirmed by state authorities as abused or neglected."

He said that the so-called "American dream" is that "this country provides opportunity and hope that everyone will reach their true potential; that this country will ensure that we create a society where we take care of each other, we support each other, and we secure success for each other. Today, more than ever, young people are at risk of losing that American dream, across the country.

"Today kids are at risk of not being as wealthy as their parents, as healthy as their parents, as educated as their parents. We have real challenges.This is a serious time for serious people."

But Miller went on to say that this was only part of the picture.

"Today, starting about 2:30 this afternoon, 440,000 kids made the decision to walk through the doors of a Boys & Girls Club at 4,300 clubhouses across the country and around the world (BCGA also serves kids on military bases).

"They come for a variety of reasons... but ultimately, they come because they decided that whatever is on the other side of that door is better for them," he continued. "We have a lot of things going against us right now in this country — but none of it outweighs the things we have going for us. We have caring communities that believe every kid should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. We have committed staff that believe what they do makes a difference. And we have kids... kids who have not yet had hope taken away from them, and have not yet lost every opportunity. We have the responsibility to hold that dream."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454