New director of youth club appointed
Nicole Harr is the new director of the Blaine Boys & Girls Club, a unit of the Boys & Girls clubs of Whatcom County, and she’s wasting no time in taking the local institution in a new direction.
“We have a good facility here that’s seen a lot of use,” Harr said, “with a program that’s been good.” Her enthusiasm begins to percolate like a coffeepot though when she speaks about her plans for the future at the facility. To that end Harr closed it this week for staff training that will culminate in an open house Friday, February 4 from 5 to 7 p.m.
“At that time we invite the community to stop by, share some refreshments, pick up a calendar and see what’s new,” Harr continued, “because we hope to create an atmosphere that says very clearly that we’re ‘under new management.’”
Harr comes to the local club with strong experience running a similar unit in Colorado, and was more or less hand-picked to take over the Blaine facility in light of increasing demands on the club that will come from Blaine’s growing population. Harr said she expects the current rate of member visits,right now about 80 to 100 individuals per day, to grow fast.
“So to prepare for that we need to add structure to the program,” she said, “and a good place to start is to teach respect for the building and the equipment with some new rules about use and deportment. We’ll also begin segmenting the days a little, with some evenings reserved for high school students.”
Harr, who began working at the Blaine unit on January 10, said that her goal at the beginning is to institute “better hours, new services and a stronger staff.” Just exactly what that will mean is to be worked out during the week of staff training. Currently, aside from Harr, the unit has five employees – program coordinator Stephanie Ballesteros, technical coordinator Josh Gallant, program assistant Sarai Dodge and program assistant Chelsea Mawso. Long-time (25 years) Bellingham unit director Fritz Willits, now retired, has been working in Blaine in a transitional role to bridge the gap between former director Greg Tillotson and Harr.
Nationally, the Boys & Girls clubs are designed to serve students in all 12 grades, although at Blaine she said “it’s unusual to see anyone over 15, again a reason to reserve times just for older kids and to set up some special programs for them. Right now I’d say we’re about evenly divided between primary and middle school students.”
Harr admits that change is sometimes unwelcome, but gets excited when she sees the potential of the Blaine unit. “As far as the facility goes, it’s great. To say it needs a little TLC is pretty normal. How would your living room look,” she asked, “if it had 80 to 100 primary and middle school students in it every day? Would it help if each of those 80 to 100 kids were given the responsibility to help keep it nice?”
To that end, Harr said she has a wish list that includes kitchen equipment, appliances and people who can teach skills such as sewing. “We could decorate the place if we can find a volunteer to teach the kids how,” Harr said. People wishing to donate an item are encouraged to call first at 332-3008.
Harr is a Texan, having grown up near Houston, but went to college in Fort Collins, Colorado, and while there began working with the Boys & Girls clubs as an undergraduate.