RONAN — The local Boys and Girls Club picked Giving Tuesday to open its new clubhouse, and Brayden Noland was feeling grateful.
“We have so much more space and technology that we didn’t have in the old space,” the club staff member said in between leading tours of the new facility in Ronan.
At 19,000 square feet, the new home of the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County dwarfs the old 3,700-square-foot clubhouse. And it boasts an enviable suite of amenities: a playground, two computer centers, a commercial-grade kitchen, art, game and multipurpose rooms, leather couches and flat-screen TVs, and space out back for future addition of a gym. There’s even a recording studio.
All of this will help the club enrich the lives of Ronan’s younger residents, said Linda Greenwood, a member of its board of directors.
“I’ve been on the board 18 years,” she said. “We’ve been wanting this for a long time.”
The Boys and Girls Club offers a range of summer and after-school activities to kids and teens, working to guide their development in three main areas: academic success, citizenship and leadership, and healthy lifestyles.
Noland, a junior at Ronan High School, came to the club while facing challenging family circumstances in 2013, and credits it with placing him on solid footing. “They gave a really good example of what honorable and good people should be like,” he said.
Now a staff member and this chapter’s “Youth of the Year,” Noland usually helps out with the Club’s “Power Hour,” where elementary- and junior high-age students work on their homework, with the possibility of free time at the end if they do well.
Whether it’s a challenging assignment, or a fight over Legos among the younger kids, “you've got to learn to talk to people,” Noland said, and the Boys and Girls Club can impart that skill.
But in recent years, the Club’s Flathead facilities have been increasingly strained. Greenwood said that the old Ronan clubhouse could serve about 90 kids, while the church basement it uses in Polson can serve about another 45. “We have waiting lists of kids for both facilities,” she said. What’s more, the old Ronan place was in the path of a planned U.S. 93 expansion.
And so, for about two years, the Boys and Girls Club has been raising funds for a new home. Last year, it bought the old Total Home Furniture Store on the northern edge of Ronan for $1.4 million, and spent much of 2018 undertaking $1 million worth of renovations.
By Tuesday, all but about $4,000 had been paid off. The new clubhouse, which Greenwood expects will be able to serve 200 kids, had been decked out for the holidays and readied for visitors.
Before the official ribbon-cutting, a drum circle from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes offered an honor song, and several Boys and Girls Club leaders and elected officials voiced hope for the new facility.
“This is a community,” Tribal Council Chairman Ron Trahan told the roughly 300 guests filling the lobby. “This is what it takes to make this happen, and it’s everybody in this community working together.”
Aric Cooksley, the local club’s executive director, thanked the community members and organizations who had helped achieve this goal, and the young people who were poised to benefit. “You guys inspire us every day,” he said. “You inspire us to want to make a better world for you to grow up in.”
The club now has its eyes on Polson, where the Providence St. Joseph Medical Center has donated 1.8 acres for a new facility. Greenwood said the club still needs to raise about $2.5 million to make it reality.
That might seem like a tall order. But Brenda Dennis, chairman of the club’s board, reminded those gathered how much they had already accomplished. Raising millions in funds to help youth reach their full potential, she said, “is really something phenomenal for a little community.”
To learn more about the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County, visit flatheadbgc.org.