Joel Todd knew exactly what he was getting into when he applied to be the director of the Blaine Boys & Girls Club.
The 33-year-old Alaska native began his relationship with the community organization as a child in Soldotna, Alaska. In the small town that was part tourism-based, part fishing village and not much else to do, he said the club was a vital part of the community and that he and his friends made it a priority to ride their bikes to the club every day.
“I was a Boys & Girls Club kid,” he said. “I started playing soccer with them in the fourth grade, and then when I turned 15 and
there weren’t any soccer leagues left, they asked me if I could coach. So I got involved that way.”
A year later, he found himself on staff.
“I didn’t know that at 16 I could coach soccer or be on staff, but my director encouraged me to be involved,” he said. “It was huge.”
The encouragement made a lasting impact, setting Todd on his career trajectory. “My entire professional career has been
founded on the club and its model and mission,” he said, noting that he has continued to coach soccer for the club and other organizations over the past 17 years as well as work for a nonprofit organization reaching out to high-risk youth in Portland, Ore. “I’m very passionate about the club. I’ve seen what it can do for communities. It’s so valuable to have a place kids can go every day.”
He’s brought that passion to the Blaine club, and said he works to be as involved with the students as he can. “I’m a pretty hands-on kind of director,” he said. “I try to be out on the floor as much as possible, getting to know the kids. The kid part is the easy part. It’s all about building relationships and getting to know what’s important to them.”
Todd said it’s evident that the programs his predecessor Diana Oplinger established are working well in the club’s environment, and that he plans to continue to build on that foundation. “We have high schoolers hanging out here and we’ve never had that before,” he said. “Kids want to be here and when you have 25 teens in the building on any given day, that says we’re doing something right.”
But, to be successful, the club can’t just have the kids’ support – it needs the community to back it as well.
Todd said he and staff are actively building relationships with the school district to see where the club can help fill in the gaps for at-risk kids, and have once again procured a reading specialist through the Reading Corps program to help bridge the divide. “The [Reading Corps] was really impressed at the progress we made last year,” Todd said. “So even though they had a reduced number of people available to send, we were able to get a Reading Corps member.”
He said that the kind of tangible results they were seeing with last year’s reading program would not be easy to obtain without having a full-time person on board. “We’re really glad that we can have the program back, and we’re coming up with ideas of things we can do to expand our partnership with the school,” Todd said “We’re serving the same kids, and need to be on the same page to do it effectively. We’re super excited to work with the district, because part of the Boy & Girls Club’s focus is on academic support.”
Though only a few months into his tenure, Todd said he’s been really pleased to see the club at work. “We’re bursting at the seams with kids,” he said. “It’s a packed house, and it’s loud and it’s small, but we couldn’t ask for a better location than right across from the school.”
Afternoon programming at the Blaine Boys & Girls Club runs weekdays from 2:30 to 7 p.m., and morning programming from 7 to 9 a.m. for an additional fee. The club is located at 635 8th Street in Blaine.
Registration for basketball season begins on October 26, with practices beginning in early November. They expect to have 15 teams this year.
Volunteers are welcomed and encouraged. For more information, call 360/332-3008.