First Lady Tonette Walker

Push begins for Boys & Girls Club in Walworth County

By: Jim Leute, Janesville Gazette
Friday, October 12, 2012

DELAVAN — Promoters say Walworth County needs a Boys & Girls Club, particularly in Delavan, where nearly two-thirds of school-age children are economically disadvantaged.

So far, organizers have raised about $50,000 of the $200,000 needed to start a club.

Judy Mueller, chairwoman of the club's local advisory council, said the Boys & Girls Club of America requires clubs to raise 150 percent of their first year's operating budget before they can open.

Mueller and other supporters discussed plans for the club Tuesday at Lake Lawn Resort.

Mueller said the club, which will target kids between the ages of 7 and 18, hopes to open by October 2013. While a site has not been selected, she said talks are ongoing with the Delavan-Darien School District about opening it at one of the district's schools.

Mike Heine, the school district's coordinator of school-community relations, said the school board heard a presentation earlier this month, and all options are on the table, including locating the center at Phoenix Middle School.

Mueller said the club is targeting Delavan because demographics show the city has the greatest need among surrounding Walworth County communities.

A recent assessment showed that 62 percent of the school district's 3,000 children live near or below the federal poverty level. Less than 15 percent of them participate in youth programs outside of school.

Among Walworth County's 16,000 school-age children, 36 percent are economically disadvantaged, Mueller said.

Talk of a youth community center has been floating around Delavan for years. Efforts to open a Boys & Girls Club started in earnest in 2010.

Gov. Scott Walker and his wife, Tonette, were on hand Tuesday to lend their support to the club, which is intended to give kids a safe place to learn and grow, ongoing relationships with caring adults, life-enhancing programs and character development experiences, as well as hope and opportunity.

Organizers announced Tuesday that the Delavan club would be the "Gov. Scott Walker Chapter" of the Boys & Girls Club of Walworth County.

Walker, a graduate of Delavan-Darien High School, said he and his wife have been supportive of a Boys & Girls Club in Walworth County since learning of the group's efforts.

He said he became more interested when he saw the demographics in Walworth County, particularly in Delavan.

"Those were a big shock to me," Walker said.

Growing up in Delavan, Walker said, he took advantage of opportunities provided by the local Boy Scouts.

"The Boys & Girls Club will offer one more opportunity for kids to participate," he said, adding that the state is partnering with several such clubs on reading initiatives. "The Boys & Girls Club can make a tremendous, tremendous difference in the young person's life."

Walker said studies show that children who aren't proficient in reading by the third grade are four times more likely not to graduate high school. Factor in poverty, he said, and the students are 13 times more likely to fail.

"You have to learn to read so that you can read to learn," he said.

Given the state's political climate, Walker later was asked if attaching his name to the Delavan chapter might adversely affect fundraising or participation.

"It wasn't my idea to use my name, and actually I had that concern, particularly when it comes to (fundraising) support," he said. "But I think people should be able to set aside their political differences and see the value in a club like this for Delavan."

Mueller said the advisory council also discussed the wisdom of naming the chapter after Walker.

"We would trust that people would not be politically motivated when it comes to the club," she said.

The club has a three-year preliminary budget that would require between $122,000 and $132,000 each year.

The current pledge drive, Mueller said, is intended to do more than just raise enough money to open the club's doors. It also will serve as an indicator of community interest so that the club can be sustained for years to come.

While the club would be in Delavan, it would be open to all school-aged children in Walworth County. It would operate as an extension of the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville, which would act as its fiscal agent and provide oversight to the advisory council in Walworth County.

"This has been an emotional journey for all of us," Mueller said. "This club will offer hope and opportunity to the youth of Walworth County.

"...We don't want to stop in Delavan. We want to open a club in every Walworth County community that wants one."

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