Janesville61°

Expanded bus program serves kids while boosting club membership

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
April 11, 2010
— Nataiya Thornton was hanging out with friends while playing carpet ball and jumping rope in the gym.

“It’s much funner’’ than going home or playing with the next-door neighbor after school, the 9-year-old third-grader said. She visits the Boys & Girls Club typically five days a week.


Sandy Toyer, an 11-year-old fifth-grader, was spending time with friends, shooting pool and playing basketball.


If he wasn’t at the club, he would have been playing videogames at home, where an older sister and brother “get on my nerves.’’


Like other Wilson Elementary students, Nataiya and Sandy used to walk nearly a mile to the downtown club.


But since January, they’ve been riding a bus.


The new program is a collaborative effort between the club, the school and St. John Lutheran Church, which came forward to be the sponsor and cover the $5,000 cost, said Heather Walz, club executive director.


The Boys & Girls Club also has a bus giving $1 rides to students from Washington and Madison elementary schools. The goal, Walz said, is to have three buses with sponsors for each to reach out to other elementary schools by September.


The free Wilson bus has been hugely popular.


Halfway through the second day of registration, staff started what became a huge waiting list for the 70-passenger bus.


Part of the attraction is a reduced club membership fee of $5 for the school year.


“There’s a real need for it, and it’s wonderful,” Wilson Principal Becky Bicha said.


“The children are able to have adequate supervision after school and also can have homework help at the club,’’ she said.


Another hidden positive, Bicha said, is that the bus program has cut traffic in the school’s drop-off zone.


“That area had been a safety issue because of the high volume of parents. It’s a win-win in every situation,” she said.


Walz and Wilson parents agreed.


The bus service has more than doubled our attendance at the Boys & Girls Club, Walz said.


“We don’t want to be just a place for kids to hang out every now and again. We want to be a place that changes lives. To do that, we need to serve as many kids as we can more often. That’s how you make the greatest impact,” Walz said.


“We were finding that a lot of kids who would only come here and there was because of transportation. That—along with a lot of calls from parents and teachers asking us to provide some type of transportation—led us down the road to look at how much it would cost us to do it,’’ Walz said.


Bicha said her students are excited about going to the club at the end of their school day, and parents are relieved, knowing their children have safe transportation and a positive place to go.


Toya Thompson, Sandy’s mother agreed:


“It’s really reasonable, very convenient and safer than being on the streets,’’ she said.



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