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Shady Cove residents offer ideas for reviving youth program

SHADY COVE — Nearly 80 residents, young and old, gathered together in a town meeting Wednesday to offer suggestions and explore ways to return a youth activities program to the Upper Rogue.

The community lost those activities when the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Rogue Valley closed the local club Dec. 16.

The club had been open on a part-time basis for less than two years, but club headquarters officials said they shut the doors because the community had not raised enough money for a second year of operation.

No one was more interested in the town hall than two Shady Cove Middle School students, eighth-grader Cheyenne Silva and her friend, seventh-grader Paulina Campos.

The girls were among the first to arrive at the Upper Rogue Community Center meeting and quickly claimed two front-row seats.

"We went to the Boys & Girls Club every day they were open," said Silva. "There were always so many things for us to do to get us out of trouble and get us off the street."

Beyond activities, Silva said the most important part of the club for young people was how they could trust the staff members and how the staff cared about them.

"We think of them as family," she said. "They were always ready to help us. To talk with us if we had any kind of trouble. They were always there."

"Our friends at school all say the same thing," Campos added. "They really miss the club. It really changed their lives. They have no one to talk to now and a lot of them say they're getting in trouble more."

Earlier this month, the Community Center board of directors announced they were attempting to re-establish the youth activities program and add some of the programs that had been offered by the Boys & Girls Club.

Malia Empasis, former paid program director for the Shady Cove Boys & Girls Club, has volunteered to help recreate and supervise versions of what were the three most popular programs at the club — the Keystone leadership group, the SMART Girls Club and the Friday Teen Night.

Keystone members, she said, are older teens who act as mentors to younger students, giving guidance, helping with homework and helping each other succeed academically. Also part of the program is career development, where adults give students hands-on experience in professions and trades.

SMART Girls was a health, fitness and self-esteem enhancement program for girls ages 8 to 17 and Teen Night offered dances and social activities for teenagers.

"It was a place for the kids to hang out and be off of the streets, eat some pizza, dance or watch a movie," Empasis said. They were in a safe and controlled environment where they could interact."

"Furthering a youth program in the Upper Rogue will require three components," said Ed Mayer, active in promoting youth activities even before the Boys & Girls Club closed.

"We will desperately need volunteers," he said, "because we're not going to have money for a paid staff. We also need to collaborate — not just with the people in this room, but with every organization that has an interest in our area, and of course, we will need money."

"We're not trying to make money," said Doug VanGordon who has been working with Mayer. "We're just trying to pay for our programs. Maybe grants can be found, but right now we have no money."

"These are the worst economic times I've seen in my lifetime," he said, "but if we want to help our kids we have to dig deep. If you could donate some of your time or your money to what we're trying to do here, it would be greatly appreciated. All money is staying in this community."

Although no budgets have been prepared, VanGordon said he thought combining the Community Center programs with the addition of the revived programs would cost about $14,000 a year.

During the two-hour meeting, audience members not only offered suggestions for what the youth programs should do, many wrote checks and a few, including Campos and Silva, volunteered to help.

"You have no idea how devastating to these kids it was when the club closed down just before Christmas," Empasis said. "For some, it was the most important thing in their life."

"That's why we're here today," said Paulina Campos, "to try and get it back. We really hope it works out."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.