New teen club provides a safe option for kids
JANESVILLE Instead of being home alone after school, Ethan Hernandez goes to the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville.
"This makes me feel safe," the 13-year-old Marshall Middle School student said.
His favorite activity is dodgeball, but he also enjoys using the computers, hanging out with friends and making new friends.
Ethan said he's told other classmates about The Club, a program for teens at the Boys & Girls Club that started with the school year and is open from 6 to 7 p.m. weekdays.
"They think it's stupid," he said.
Ethan plans to be at The Club even as he grows older.
Although the Boys & Girls Club at 200 W. Court St. is open to youth of all ages from 3 to 6 p.m., it is open exclusively for teens from 6 to 7 p.m. weekdays.
"It's part of the direction the board wanted to go to increase activities for teens. There was a concern there wasn't much for teens to do after school. So, I talked to my staff, and we thought we would pilot this and see how it goes," said Carrie Kulinski, executive director.
So far, attendance has been averaging between 10 and 15 teens, Kulinski said.
Previously, the Boys & Girls Club had been hosting teen night once a month.
"So slowly we've been trying to work in teen activities," she said.
Kulinski said teens need a place and space of their own. She worked for more than a decade with at-risk students in the Janesville School District as an alcohol and drug coordinator.
"The hours between 3 and 6 p.m. weekdays are when the majority of high-risk behavior occurs, whether it's substance abuse or criminal activity. And teens left unsupervised after school are 37 percent more likely to become teen parents," she said.
Although the after-school program is open from 3 to 7 p.m., teens can come at 3 p.m., Kulinski said.
"It's just we get all the little kids out at 6 so they could have an hour to themselves," she said.
Miranda Mehring, a 12-year-old Franklin Middle School student, has been taking advantage of the new teen club Monday night.
"It's fun, and you can do a whole bunch of stuff," she said.
When Miranda isn't at The Club she said she hangs out with friends either in their houses, or they walk the streets after school.
"It's not anything bad that we do, but we just start having fun then get in trouble," she said.
Most days Miranda goes to The Club, where she enjoys the teen lounge and gym activities.
Monday night's theme was Messy Monday, and teens played word scramble with alphabet soup. On garbage bags spread across two tables, they followed typed instructions. The team that finished all 10 steps first and scored the most points won.
Miranda's team beat Ethan's team to win candy bars.
Later, Miranda spent time teasing club staff. Ethan chose to shoot hoops in the gym.
Kulinski views the new teen club as a crime prevention tool.
"Not every kid is in sports to keep them busy, so this is a safe place for them to be after school," she said.
"We're trying to get the kids away from their usual crowd and provide a new option for those who are having a hard time making new friends."