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The Boys & Girls Club of Albuquerque: "We're Like a Family Here"

Reinventing the Outdoors contest: One way the Boys & Girls Club keeps kids healthy and safe? A plan to play outside for 45 minutes a day.

UPDATED! Launched on Monday April 4, GOOD and the 2011 Ford Explorer will be devoting six weeks to the Reinventing the Outdoors Contest, which showcases amazing organizations like this one that are redefining the way we live, work, and play outside. Check in every day for a new story about the people, celebrities, and programs behind each organization. Help your favorite group win the $50,000 grand prize by voting for them starting Monday, May 16 through Friday, May 20.

In 2005, Rene Clark started driving kids from school to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albuquerque & Rio Rancho every Wednesday afternoon. Within three years, she was promoted from that part-time job to her current full-time position as Director of Operations. She now does everything from fundraising, managing her staff, and running programs to washing the walls and mopping the floors—always with an eye to helping the children.

GOOD: How is the club most valuable to kids?
RENE CLARK: Many of the kids we work with are from single parent households, or one of the parents is involved with drugs or incarcerated. Other kids you can send to summer school to learn about geography or government. But these kids need coping mechanisms for everyday stuff so they can focus on academics. We have mentoring programs, sports programs, healthy habits to teach kids how to make good snacks, and programs that teach resistance of tobacco and alcohol.

G: How does the club get kids outside and moving?
RC: If the sun is shining, these kids want to be outside. My staff is young and energetic and willing to give the kids whatever outdoor activity they need. Every morning in the summer, kids are taken to the park where they do two laps and then calisthenics to get them in the groove. We go fishing, and do nature walks various places, and we have summer camps for sports like basketball or baseball. And during the year if the weather permits, we go to the park and play rugby or football or just toss around a Frisbee. Or if it’s too cold, we stay indoors and get them physically active for 45 minutes every day.

G: Any great new outdoor programs?
RC: We’re building gardens this year. We just started digging up the yard. We’re putting in vegetables and fruits—like pumpkin seeds, bell peppers, carrots, strawberries, cucumbers, and tomatoes. And the kids will take care of it all, from tilling the dirt, planting the seeds, watering, and picking the food and preparing it for snacks and salads and soups for all the kids in the club to eat. We’re growing things that most children don’t get at home.

G: What do you think are the club’s biggest achievements?
RC: Helping kids with lessons. And that’s not just teaching a child what two plus two is. Our mentorship program helps kids not just with homework, but with breathing exercises, concentration techniques, stress reducing exercises—different things a child can do to relax and concentrate on their studies. Last year, over 75% of our kids ages 5-11 improved their grades by one grade level in six months. I think that’s absolutely fantastic.

G: What would these kids be doing if they weren’t in the Club?
RC: There would be a rise in juvenile delinquency; they’d be tagging someone’s building or breaking someone’s window. And the kids that are too young to legally be home alone [under 14] would be locked inside their house, sitting in front of the TV and just waiting for a parent to call or come home.

G: What would you use the money for if you won?
RC: I’d like to purchase another van. In the summer, we triple our numbers and to take kids swimming is like fifteen trips in our one van. Another van means we could take teens on vacation, do special trips with junior staffers—plus, we just received a donation of camping equipment, and I’d like to take kids camping. Other clubs around the country do this, and I’d like to provide my kids with those same opportunities.

G: What makes you most proud about the club?
RC: The Boys & Girls Club has always been the best-kept secret. We’re not a recreational facility. We are a structured education program for youth 5-18 years of age. We have trained professional staff and mentors, not only to provide programs and monitoring, but also friendship. We’re like family, we really have a passion for the children. You can’t get that from a community rec center.

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