United Way donor dollars boost Janesville youth programs, families

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Shelly Birkelo
Saturday, November 14, 2015

JANESVILLE—Sisters Anna and Ashlyn Schyvinck have grown up at the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville.

Edison Middle School students Anna, 12, and Ashlyn, 13, became members six years ago after their mom's work schedule changed.

“Our dad was working later, too, so there wasn't anyone to watch us,” Ashlyn said.

Although the girls were aware of the club near their Janesville home, they'd only seen its exterior and initially were “kind of scared” to go there, Ashlyn said.

But the girls quickly felt at home in the fun, safe and diverse learning environment at 200 W. Court St. They go to the club year-round—in the summer and after school.

Without the club, the girls' mother, Lisa, would have had to enroll them in day care when they were younger, which would have cost more, she said.

"They could stay home now by themselves, but they'd rather come here,” Lisa said.

The Boys & Girls Club is affordable, Lisa said, and “the staff has become familiar with our parenting styles and provided the girls a good sense of community. They've made friends, have been able to participate in many different clubs here and take field trips.”

Those opportunities were possible thanks to United Way Blackhawk Region grants, said Jenny Sliker, executive director of the youth organization.

This year, United Way earmarked $674,387 for education programs to help children and youth, said Mary Fanning-Penny, local United Way president and CEO.

Of that, the Boys & Girls Club received $45,500.

Allocations are based on recommendations by a 50-person community impact council, whose volunteer members visit program sites, review program outcomes and judge the financial stability of more than 100 health and human services programs led by 42 nonprofits, Fanning-Penny said.

Since the inception of the Blackhawk Region, the investment in the local Boys & Girls Club has steadily increased, she said.

The nonprofit youth organization received $42,000 in 2012 and requested $50,000 for 2016, she said.

That grant makes up 12 percent of the Boys & Girls Club's annual $360,000 operating budget, Sliker said.

“If it wasn't for the support from United Way, all of our programs would cost more,” she said.

Meanwhile, Anna and Ashlyn have had opportunities to participate in art adventures, learn about careers through the summer Walk About program, examine girl issues through Girl Talk, do homework during Power Hour, acquire job stills at Career Launch and use the computer lab and gym.

“We did everything together the first few years,” Ashlyn said.

Anna likes the Power Hour, when staff and older club members can help her with homework.

Ashlyn, named the club's 2015 Youth of the Year, attributes the improvement in her social skills to her club involvement.

“Before here, I was extremely shy," she said. "But once I got here, I got to know a bunch of different types of people.

“I'm working on public speaking, which is getting easier but something I want to get better at.”

Anna said the club has brought her many new friends.

“People we met in first and second grades are still our good friends,” she said.

“All the staff members have been extremely helpful," Ashlyn said. "I feel comfortable and can talk to them about problems with friends to homework. It's not like (with) teachers,” she said.

Fanning-Penny said supporting a safe and welcoming environment for youth is a priority for United Way.

“Boys & Girls Club programming aligns with our education impact goal of expanding opportunities for children and youth to bond with peers, mentors and positive roles models,” she said.

United Way's 2015 campaign goal of $2.82 million is aggressive and 5.26 percent higher than 2014 campaign results, but it's necessary, Fanning-Penny said.

“It reflects the growing financial need of programs at nonprofit organizations supported by United Way in Rock County and northern Winnebago County, Illinois,” she said.

United Way also has increased its outreach for unduplicated services, Fanning-Penny said.

“Over the past year, more than 130,400 health and human services were provided, for an increase from 94,000 services in 2013,” she said.

Families thrive when they are part of a community, and the Janesville Boys & Girls Club is an integral part of Janesville, Fanning-Penny said.

 “When we support United Way and the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville,” she said, “we are helping to strengthen families, to celebrate them and provide for a well-rounded springboard to their future.”

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