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Staying out of trouble: Pine Point Boys & Girls Club keeps kids busy after school

Working on crafts, from left, are Kai Chavez, 5, Jayme Harper, 8, and Kyle Jones, 7. (Riham Feshir/Tribune)1 / 5
Wesley Jones, 9, gets ready for Halloween by decorating the Pine Point Boys and Girls Club last week. Helping him is Unit Lead Shane Bellanger.2 / 5
Three-year-old Cece Chavez and 6-year-old Amelia Chavez getting help from Crystal Basswood on how to pronounce a few Ojibwe words. (Riham Feshir/Tribune)3 / 5
Cece Chavez, 3, points at photos and tries to learn the Ojibwe translation for various types of animals at the Pine Point Boys and Girls Club. (Riham Feshir/Tribune)4 / 5
the Boys and Girls Club is part of the Pine Point Community Center.5 / 5

Cece Chavez stood on a table at the Pine Point Boys and Girls Club pointing at some pictures and identifying them.

The 3-year-old, however, had a hard time pronouncing "omakaakii," "waawaashkeshi" and "manidoons."

The Ojibwe translation for frog, deer and bug were written right on the photos to remind Cece and her fellow Boys and Girls Club members of their native tongue.

The Pine Point Boys and Girls Club's ultimate goal is to keep kids out of gang activity, but also to teach them American Indian language and culture and give them a place to hang out after school.

For nearly five years, the Boys and Girls Club, located in the heart of the village as a part of the community center, attracts an average of 35 kids on a typical afternoon.

Funded through the White Earth Tribal Council, the Boys and Girls Club is a result of the collaboration between a number of volunteers as well as government employees who provide transportation and organize various activities for the kids.

"We try to get active with the community and the community tries to get active with us," said Unit Lead Shane Bellanger.

In addition to providing crafts, games, field trips and homework help, the Boys and Girls Club tries to emphasize native culture.

About 99 percent of the kids are Native American, Bellanger said.

And because the Ojibwe language seems to be disappearing from the reservation, with only about 10 people left who speak it fluently, Bellanger said there needs to be more focus on teaching and retaining it.

"So the kids don't lose their heritage and their background or where they come from," Bellanger said.

Despite the continuous cultural programs and events taking place in one of the largest tribes in Minnesota, the next generation still needs more, he added.

Often times, the Boys and Girls Club invites drumming, dance and native art teachers to visit with the kids.

"They're starting to get it now -- where they do come from," Bellanger said.

The large space is recovering from a break-in that happened this summer where electronics, movies and games were stolen.

It was the third burglary and exactly the type of troubled activity leaders are trying to keep kids away from.

"Some of the kids said 'why would they steal our stuff?'" Bellanger explained the disappointed tone of the Boys and Girls Club members.

The Pine Point School, along with the Boys and Girls Clubs, has been enforcing stricter no violence policies with successful outcomes, Bellanger said.

Even as young as 8, 10 or 11 years old, the children are at risk of being sucked into groups they may later realize they don't want to be a part of.

Bellanger said providing a safe and fun environment has paid off. For example, a 12-year-old boy who admitted he was part of a gang is now a regular member of the club after realizing he didn't want to throw his life away.

"We told him, if you go down a certain path, you would end up in jail, prison," Bellanger said. "Make something out of your life instead of being in a gang."

Last week, the kids were getting ready for a Halloween party planned for Saturday, Oct. 30, by decorating the place. The community center is also hosting a haunted house Friday, Oct. 29, and Saturday, Oct. 30.

When the holiday season rolls around, there will be a Christmas dinner and opportunities for the kids to receive some gifts, toys and take photos with Santa.