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It's official: Totally new kids’ club opens in Ronan

RONAN – The doors opened on the new clubhouse for the Boys and Girls Club of Lake County and the Flathead Reservation on Tuesday, Nov. 27, and the experience was overwhelming for some.

One of the club’s board members, Janette Rosman, watched as children walked in the front door of the 19,000 square-foot remodeled furniture store on U.S. Highway 93. This would be the new place where the kids could play games, develop art projects, talk with friends, do homework and a plethora of other activities. 

Rosman said one girl about 11 years old caught her attention. “She walked in the door, looked around and tears came down,” Rosman said of the girl. “The child couldn’t talk. She was so overwhelmed. And I couldn’t talk either because it was so emotional, so I just took her on a tour.” 

After walking in the door, a big front room is accented with floor to ceiling windows. A Christmas tree decorated with club member photos was set up in front of one of the windows. The building was full of adults and children for the grand opening celebration. Several other children were exploring. Rosalei Robbins-Clatterbuck, 9, was playing hide-and-seek with a group of friends. 

“This place is so big,” she said. “I got lost once. Besides my house, this is the best place to play. It’s really great. I want to do some arts and crafts in here. It will be so fun.” 

In the back of the building, past the recording studio and music center, computer lab, office rooms, central all-purpose room and the drinking fountains, Matthew Mitchell, 10, was in the teen center playing Ping-Pong. He set the paddle down long enough to say: “This place is great.”

Another room is being used as a small gym until the club can raise the $700,000 needed to build a bigger one with a basketball court. Kannon Blood-Hando, 9, ran around in circles playing tag with his friends. “This place is cool,” he said. His friend added, “It’s awesome.” And another kid said: “Really, really good.”

The old clubhouse, down the road from the new one, was a great asset to the community after it was developed in 1988. “We are grateful to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for providing the old building for $1 a year,” Rosman said.    

Lake County Judge Kim Christopher was at the opening event for the new building. She remembered when the club opened in the 80s and said the new project is amazing. “I saw the club when it first got started and people were as thrilled back then to get the old building as they are to get this one. It’s a great project. This (club) gives kids a healthy, happy place to be so they learn how accomplishing things.” 

She continued: “This place allows kids to find mentors to give them tools so they never come in front of me. I would rather see adults in court than children. But this place isn’t just for children that are struggling, it’s for all the kids.” 

About ten years ago, board members and club staff began thinking about getting a bigger building for the kids so they could spread out and have more room to do their projects. The Montana Department of Transportation also announced plans to eventually expand the highway with a couplet located at the club’s old location, so moving became a necessity. 

Executive Director Aric Cooksley started looking at the Total Home furniture store as a new location in March of 2017 when the owners decided to close their shop, and by the end of the year, the Club purchased the building for $1.4 million, debt free, with donations. Another $1 million was raised to remodel the building. Funding was also raised to help develop an endowment fund for upkeep and building costs like heating and electricity. 

Amy Vaughan, director of operations, stood near the new kitchen, which was developed with a $50,000 donation from Jarecki family. As she talked to a group of people and said: “This couldn’t have been done without everyone.” She said it took a “tone of volunteers” to make it happen, including the person who helped when the calking gun exploded before the open house. 

Several hundred people gathered in the front room during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Cooksley said he had a long “thank you” list, but first, he wanted to thank the community. “We could not have done this without you,” he said. Cooksley also thanked the kids: “Without you, this would be pointless.”

Brenda Dennis, chairman of the club’s board, addressed the crowd and said it was “amazing” that a small community could raise the couple million needed to make the project happen. “This is phenomenal for our community,” she said. She called Cooksley “Mr. Possibility” and thanked him for his work. She said he was able to make things happen and save money in the process, like the time he had a set of solid wood doors developed into tables after better doors were donated. 

Dennis quoted Frederick Douglas (social reformer and writer in the 1800s) as she talked about the positive aspects of the club and the impact it has on the community:  “It’s easier to build strong children than to fix broken men.” She also encouraged people to volunteer. “How can you be part of the lives around us?”

Judy Preston, chair of the capital campaign, also stood up to encourage people to volunteer and continue to support the club. She said volunteer work made the project happen. “Every bit of this project has volunteer finger prints,” she said.

Ronan Mayor Kim Aipperspach said there are a lot of projects in the county, but the work the Club does for children is “pretty hard to beat.” He said it was amazing that people were able to turn what was a dream to help kids into reality.

Ron Trahan, CSKT chairman, got up from the drum circle soon after playing the honor song with a group of drummers and spoke a few words. He said this project happened because everyone worked together. The ribbon was then cut to officially open the new building for the children.    

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