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Keeping Kids Outdoors, But Off the Streets

Reinventing the Outdoors contest: Learn about this week's featured organization, The Boys & Girls Club of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho.

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.

Walk into the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albuquerque & Rio Rancho after school any day of the week, and “it looks like madness on a small note,” says Director of Operations Rene Clark. In the gym, kids are laughing as they play a hybrid game of basketball, football, and soccer that they invented themselves. Other children are whipping up healthy snacks in the kitchen, while outside, teens are in a rugby scrimmage and littler kids are poking around in a pond for tadpoles.

It’s a vibrant scene full of actively engaged children who might otherwise be getting into all sorts of trouble. Originally founded in 1951, the clubs were the solution by the police and local business owners to a growing problem of juvenile delinquency in the area. Kids were vandalizing local stores, stealing hubcaps off cars and wandering around unattended and bored, so adults contacted the national Boys & Girls Club organization (which today has over 4,000 clubs in all 50 states), and put together a local chapter to get the children busy and off the streets.

Now with two facilities—one in the Heights neighborhood of Albuquerque, and one in Rio Rancho—these clubs serve almost 1,500 kids aged 5 through 18 each year. Three-quarters of these kids come from single-family homes and more than half are from homes classified as low and poverty income level households. In other words, these are children who are underserved and at-risk.

Every weekday from 7am to 6pm during the school year and throughout the summer, children tumble through these clubs, served by only seventeen staff members and a bevy of eager volunteers. From homework assistance and physical fitness activities to healthy habits education (including nutrition, personal wellness, and drug resistance training) and arts and crafts, the programs focus on keeping kids active and learning—and happy.

Look at the children, and the results speak for themselves. “One little girl was with us since she was six,” says Clark. “Her parents were drug abusers and she was locked up in her bedroom most of her life. Now, she’s 14, outspoken, and a straight-A student. She says that if it weren’t for the clubs, she wouldn’t have developed properly. She really didn’t have family until she came to us.”

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