Kids Unlimited launches White City programs

Organization fills void left after closure of Boys & Girls Club last year
Vellani Robinson, 7, shows off her mask Friday at White City Elementary School. Medford-based Kids Unlimited is filling the void left following the closure of the Boys & Girls Club.Julia Moore

From drawing funny pictures to playing board games to creating feathered masks or beaded jewelry, about 30 children shifted from station to station at White City Elementary School on Friday afternoon as Kids Unlimited staffers guided the boisterous youngsters through a series of indoor activities.

"We call it fun Friday," said Brian Ayala, adding the indoor craft and game day was necessitated because of inclement weather and prior commitments for the school's gymnasium.

"Is that supposed to be me?" asked Ayala, 29, grinning at one young boy waving his paper-plate portrait of the 29-year-old program coordinator.

Kids Unlimited has stepped up to provide services and activities for White City youths following last summer's anticipated shutdown of the area's Boys & Girls Club.

April Scott and Sierra Anderson, both 8, proudly displayed their day's artistic efforts — handmade masks and glow-in-the-dark jewelry. Vellani Robinson held up her "seal mask," and discussed her favorite activities since joining the Kids Unlimited program in White City.

"I like the computer lab, and the gym and the library," the 7-year-old said.

Tom Cole, executive director of the Medford-based Kids Unlimited organization, said he and other community leaders began brainstorming once news hit the community that the White City Boys & Girls Club would close because of budget shortfalls.

Kids Unlimited's academic emphasis is receiving enthusiastic support from Eagle Point School District teachers, principals and its top administrator, district Superintendent Cynda Rickert.

"We have had an incredible collaborative effort," Cole said.

Cole is choosing to operate in the schools in the underserved area, and also offer a different type of program — one with an academic emphasis, he said.

Cole explained Kids Unlimited is not a drop-in center or a child care center. It requires participating youths to maintain academic standards to participate in its sports, arts and music programs. And it requires parents to be involved in their children's academic futures, Cole said.

Diann Gilbertson, interim executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Rogue Valley, said that her board voted to close White City's club, which had an annual budget of about $225,000 because it had netted a $508,000 loss over the past five years.

The decision came as the Grants Pass-based club deals with ongoing financial issues that led to the resignation of its director early in 2012, and the closure of a Shady Cove club in December 2011.

Rickert said in August that there was a void in White City that could be filled by Kids Unlimited. She had seen the program's success in Medford in changing lives. And she wanted it for kids in White City, Rickert said.

Since the Kids program is designed to boost academic scores, the schools must be invested. And, with Rickert's support, they have been, Cole said.

"There is a climate that everyone wants to be serving the kids better," Cole said. "They made us welcome even though we had no money and no resources. They want to advocate for kids in poverty."

Cole said it was "encouraging" that the district believes in Kids Unlimited's mission and wants to be involved. But he is counting on grass-roots support from people within the community, especially parents who enroll their children in its programs, Cole said.

Scholarships are available for families that cannot contribute financially. But parents still must contribute by participation, he said.

"Our goal in the spring is to grow the middle-school program and continue the elementary program," Cole said, adding he wanted to launch a full-day summer camp such as the one at Medford's Kids Unlimited.

Cole is no stranger to operating on shoestring budgets — or of making believers out of those who doubted the staying power of the nonprofit, youth-centered organization. Kids Unlimited is entering its 15th year in Medford, he said.

Contributions, grants and donations from the Ford Family Foundation, United Way and others, including the White City Improvement Foundation, have helped get programs started, Cole said.

"The (White City group) is planning a bingo night in April to raise some money," Cole said, adding the members have a vested interest in the outcomes of their community's children.

"It has to be a relationship that isn't just services," Cole said. "We want the best for our kids."

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