EVERGREEN — It would be easy to say the events that led Cindy Hooker to the Boys and Girls Club of Glacier Country were all random chance, linked together in a straightforward but unplanned way to bring her from Tennessee to Kalispell.
But Hooker doesn’t think it’s that simple. What are the odds that a person who built a Boys and Girls Club from the ground up in rural southeastern Tennessee would move to the Flathead and learn that the local clubs are in need of leadership?
“It was really something that God led me to, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Hooker said from the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club last week.
Hooker recently took over as director at the club, which has fallen into a dire financial situation. Two grants worth $70,000 were lost in the last two years, and the club needs about $75,000 for its annual programming and to keep the doors open, she said.
The predicament is so severe that the board of directors has decided to sell the Evergreen skating rink building the club has been using as its headquarters, and host the programming at Evergreen Elementary from now on.
Busing students to and from the skating rink on Shady Lane was too expensive, and the club now takes six to eight trips with a 15-passenger van to bring the kids from school to the club.
Boys and Girls Clubs across the country seek to help young people, especially those in need, reach their full potential as citizens, through safe environments, programming, and positive, supportive relationships with caring adults.
As it stands now, the club has enough funding to make it month to month, but the stress of trying to come up with money to pay for each month takes away attention from the kids and the programming, Hooker said.
“We need $75,000 to operate in the schools, and it doesn’t need to be all at one time,” Hooker said. “We want to be able to reassure our parents that this program will continue.”
Roughly 80 kids participate in the Boys and Girls Club regularly, she said, and a survey sent home to parents revealed that most of the adults sending their kids to the club after school would be left with no other options if the club shuts down.
“If we don’t have any money by January, we won’t be able to run programming after Christmas break,” Hooker said.
It’s a challenging position to take on as a newcomer to the local program, but Hooker’s experience with the Boys and Girls Club extends more than a decade, back to when she and her family were living in Tennessee. She was very involved with her two children’s lives, Hooker said, but noticed there were so many kids who didn’t have that attention in their own lives.
“Seeing kids who didn’t have that really drove me to want to create a place for kids,” Hooker said.
It took two years to start the Boys and Girls Club there, but within a couple years, they had their own building thanks to a grant from the USDA Rural Development program and were serving at full capacity.
“My mindset was to get the club started and have it flourish,” she said. “To watch (the kids) be on this path, and because of what goes on at the Boys and Girls Club, you watch their path change. Oh my gosh, it’s amazing.”
She was the director of the club for eight years after getting it off the ground, but a vacation to Montana disrupted further plans for Tennessee. They visited the valley and Glacier National Park several years ago, and the family decided it was the place for them.
“We hiked the Highline to Swiftcurrent (in Glacier Park) and we were done — we were sold,” she said.
Hooker’s husband got a job here about a year and a half ago, and she began working for Buffalo Hills Terrace in Kalispell. There, she met a member of the board for the Boys and Girls Club, and after joining the board, she decided to take on the director role after the previous director, Alan Sempf, resigned.
The club needs to dig itself out of a hole and quickly, Hooker said. Local community groups such as Rotary have been key in getting the word out, and Hooker would like to partner more with community groups.
On Nov. 16, the Red Caboose Frozen Yogurt + Coffee shop in Whitefish will donate all the proceeds earned between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. to the Boys and Girls Club, and Hooker said she has more fundraisers in mind.
Once the club is able to focus on more than just staying afloat, Hooker hopes to emphasize new programming for teens, and eventually build a new facility for the Boys and Girls Club.
For more information on the Boys and Girls Club of Glacier Country, including how to donate, visit the club’s website at www.boysandgirlsclubgc.com, or call 406-897-3343.
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