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Perham Boys and Girls Club membership quadruples

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS As a reward for good behavior, the Boys and Girls Club held a disco party for kids last month. Gavin Kehoe went all out and dressed in 'hippy gear'.

Since opening in June of 2011, the memberships at Boys and Girls Club in Perham have quadrupled - from 51 then, to 205 now.

Last month, the club expanded its space by another 800 square feet.

In an interview last week, director Cori Brown said this growth is largely due to recent partnerships with area businesses and groups.

In one such partnership, Heart of the Lakes Elementary School brought an educational booster program into the after-school club by providing a teacher and a paraprofessional four afternoons a week. Minnesota's Targeted Services program reimburses the school district for costs associated with this.

At the beginning of the school year, the Boys and Girls Club had 15 applicants on a waiting list. Those children could not be accepted because the club didn't have enough space or enough adults available to watch them.

But Brown said, "If we are not going to do the program well, we are not going to do it."

The partnership with the elementary school was exactly what the Boys and Girls Club needed. It allowed the club to lease an additional 800 square feet of space for the targeted services activities. Brown hopes that space will allow the club to expand this summer, opening its doors to teenagers ages 13 to 18.

Another new partnership the Boys and Girls Club has formed is with the East Otter Tail County 4-H club, which brings leadership workshops to the center. Fifth and sixth graders attend leadership sessions three times a month, and then implement their new skills by helping the younger kids with a project once a month.

"It's a very good partnership for us," Brown said.

It's been good for the older kids to be the teachers once in a while, and 4-H provides that opportunity, she added.

The club has also expanded its partnership with Perham Living. Twice a week, small groups of kids sing and exercise with residents at the nursing home. The residents also come to the club weekly and interact with the kids.

Brown said the relationship has been good for both groups of people. She has seen residents become more confident with children, and vice versa.

Recently, Brown said, the club had "three residents that were in wheelchairs. It was nice to see the kids OK with that."

Brown said all three partnerships help the Boys and Girls Club fulfill its goal: "To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens."