In a world where video screens and devices increasingly leave children isolated, the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver offers an old-school antidote — face-to-face human interaction.
“I make new friends here every day. I get snacks and play games,” said Ivory, an 8-year-old attending the Arthur E. Johnson Boys and Girls Club at 3325 West 16th Ave. in Denver on a Tuesday afternoon in October.
The nonprofit has offered Denver-area children a safe place to hang out after school since 1961. Children interact with peers and adult staff, explore potential interests and build new skills. Bouncing back from the pandemic, the nonprofit revamped or added seven locations this fall, bringing its total number of locations to 25.
The program reaches about 28,000 kids in Denver, Aurora, Arvada, Brighton, Commerce City, Lakewood and Westminster, and has a goal of growing to 30 spots in the not-so-distant future.
“We want to keep growing as the needs grow,” said Lauren Kamm, vice president of marketing and communications.
The standard club model is to host children from ages 5 to 18 after school Monday to Friday during the school year. About 18 of the 25 programs are located within schools, and the rest are standalone, like the Arthur E. Johnson location near West Colfax and a location supported by the Denver Broncos in Montbello and another one built by the Suncor Refinery in Commerce City.
More locations are providing early morning programs for younger children and about 18 locations run summer programs. Families pay a nominal fee per child and teens can get in free. Many continue to come, serving as an inspiration to the younger kids.
About nine in 10 of the participants qualify for reduced lunch programs and half of the kids are from households that earn $30,000 a year or less, Kamm said. Having an affordable and safe place to leave their children while they work into the late afternoon or evening is a big draw for parents.
Kids like Ivy in turn also enjoy being able to hang out in a safe place where they can have fun and explore interests, Kamm said.
Those interested in competing in athletics can join in supervised pickup gains or participate in sports leagues. More creative types can pursue arts and crafts options. Reading assistance and other after-school mentoring are available and there has been an added focus on science, technology, engineering and math or STEM.
The Crown Institute out of the University of Colorado, collaborating with the Pixar movie studio, developed an interactive digital application with the input of Denver-area club members called Inside U. It is designed to help kids learn about their emotions and how to handle them.
Other programs teach lessons on living healthy lifestyles and a popular one focuses on character development and leadership skills, including public speaking.
In January 2022, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver Mental Health Program launched at all the locations, with 11 full-time mental health staff able to hold one-on-one sessions and social-emotional learning groups.
Older participants are taught how to apply for college and prepare a resume and about nine out of 10 seniors active in the program graduate high school, Kamm said.
Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver
Address: 2017 W. 9th Ave., Denver, CO 80204
Number of employees: 300
Annual budget: $26.2 million in fiscal year 2022