Empty IGA building on west side being put to good use
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
In just more than four years, the Boys and Girls Club needs a bigger home than the former Simonet Funeral Home building in east Little Falls can provide. The space was slated for a parking lot, but Morrison County officials gave the Club the space to use, rent free.
With donated time, talent and materials to bring the building up to code, and seed money to pay expenses and staff, the doors opened June 16, 2009.
That day, 13 young people showed up and became members with the $10 per year dues. By the end of 2012, the Club boasted 569 members with an average daily attendance of 106 kids.
A club report says, “That old funeral home has never been as full of life as it is now.”
Having outgrown the space and the county’s time limit of three years (which was extended), the search was on for a new home.
A building on West Broadway in Little Falls, once home to a grocery store that has been sitting empty since 2000, fit the bill.
Many people will remember it as the Red Owl Store, Schaffer’s Foods, Green’s Super Value or IGA, said Bernie Jeub, president of the Little Falls Advisory Board.
He said just 6,000 on the west end of the 15,000 square feet of the building would be home to the Boys and Girls Club — that’s 3,600 more than the 2,400 square feet in the current building.
The remaining 9,000 square feet on the east end will be utilized for a thrift store in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Funds from the sale of the goods in the store will benefit both the Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity.
The project cost is estimated at $1 million, with $650,000 of that already raised or pledged.
The first item on the agenda, is the roof.
“It only leaks when it rains or when the snow melts,” joked Jeub, so it’s the first thing to be torn off and replaced this fall.
One of the key issues, said Jeub, is the donation of time and talent for the project.
“Volunteers will be an intricate part of this happening, pulling the community together,” said Jeub.
Throughout the winter, contractor Ken Santala of Little Falls, will work with crews, even volunteers, to work on the inside of the building, designed by architect Kevin Anderson.
A secured entrance will be installed near the office, as well as a secure area for the kids’ backpacks and belongings. Plans also include a computer lab and study area where kids can do homework in peace and quiet, an arts area, an area just for teens, as well as a recreation area for all kids.
“A wish and dream for the west side of the building,” said Jeub, is an outdoor recreation area for games like volleyball.
The complex has room to expand in the future, possibly the addition of a gymnasium. “That’s another plus for this site, the expansion potential,” said Jeub, who also envisions community organizations utilizing the space during off-hours.
An anticipated feature is a kitchen, where snacks can be stored and prepared and where Branch Director Janelle Hansen looks forward to holding some cooking classes, Jeub said.
“One of our five core areas is health and life skills,” said Hansen. “We help teach the kids to prepare their own meals and to get them excited about it. That’s just one of the really cool areas that we can really expand with this.”
Although she said staff and club members have really “become attached to this old funeral home,” more youths can be served. “It will open doors for maybe additional hours, and down the line, we’ll be open to offering a meal every day,” she said.
She’s also looking forward to a new technology room, populated with new computers using grants and funds available through Microsoft. The new computers will replace the 12-year-old computers now used at the Club.
“The kids are really excited about having high speed Internet that will be able to expand their technology skills. The Boys and Girls Clubs also have a really cool technology program that kids can get involved in.”
Hansen said nine staff are employed at the Club, two through the summer CEP program, one through the Experience Work program. “Those have been great additions,” she said. “The staff are trained and paid, which really makes it beneficial that we keep them around,” she said. “Consistency is important when working with kids. They really get attached to us.”
Nathan Janson, the education coordinator, works with kids during “Power Hour,” which runs from after school to 6 p.m. “He helps with everything from math to English and even helps with science projects … the schools have been wonderful in helping us to learn, even letting us attend their iPad training, to collaborate to help the kids.”
Thursday, the youths at the Club were preparing food for the Oasis Share A Meal program. They had raised the money to purchase the supplies and were preparing it to serve. “They want to give back,” said Hansen.
Jeub said many of the kids that utilize the Boys and Girls Club, would otherwise go home to empty homes or apartments, as their parents work. The kids are mainly from Little Falls, but Jeub said kids come from Pierz, Swanville, Randall and Royalton.
Relating just one success story, Jeub told of a third-grader who was at a kindergarten level. During that school year, with the help of tutors at the Boys and Girls Club, the child was reading at a mid-third grade level.
“The district deeply appreciates the work that the Club does with the students,” said Little Falls Superintendent Stephen Jones. “I know that the Club holds students accountable with homework and provides support for the students.”
Police Chief Greg Schirmers praised the staff at the Boys and Girls Club. “This is one of the best programs that I’ve seen,” said Schirmers. The Boys and Girls Club will also provide activities at the National Night Out event Aug. 13, in Little Falls.
“I really think it’s a great opportunity,” Schirmers said of the new building. “The Club has made a positive impact in the community.”
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel had only positive things to say about the Club as well.
“A huge number of kids have a safe and fun place to go and spend time. They get positive role models, help with homework, and a sense of belonging,” he said. “Providing kids those things, along with keeping them occupied, can only lead to good things.”
The purpose of the Boys and Girls Club, open to kids ages 6 – 18, for a $10 yearly membership fee, is for kids to have a safe, positive place to make new friends, have fun and learn.
Jeub said, “It’s ‘our job,’ the community’s job, to make this thing continue.”
Anyone who has questions or who would like to donate time, talent or treasure to the project, may call Jeub at (320) 249-5632.
A large thermometer being created by Froggy’s Signs will track the fundraising progress.