News Lifestyles Editor
ALPENA - The Boys & Girls Club of Alpena has fallen victim to some of the same economic difficulties faced by many other area agencies and governmental entities.
Executive Director Susan Nielsen announced this week the club's outreach units at Thunder Bay Junior High and Alpena High School will close, effective April 1. At the same time, three staff members associated with those units will be laid off.
"For the last two or three years, we've seen a downturn in federal, state and even local funding," Nielsen said. "We have a deficit budget, and that is something you can't continue to add to. We have to get our budget back in line with the reality."
Nielsen was quick to assure the public that the club's main facility, the Lanny Kingsbury Center at 601 River, will remain fully operational. The Youth Volunteer Corps and Volunteen programs at AHS also will not be impacted by the cuts.
The club operates under a $250,626 annual budget and is currently closing in on a $55,000 deficit.
"For the outreach programs to continue, we would need $10,000 just to finish the school year and that wouldn't negate next year," Nielsen said. "Unless we got a quick $35,000, we couldn't run the programs next year, and that's not even pulling us out of the deficit situation that we are in now."
In all likelihood, she said, the agency should have eliminated the programs last year, but the board of directors and staff were hoping for a turnaround. As executive director, she routinely applies for every available grant she comes across.
"I even apply for far-fetched grants, and sometimes we get them," Nielsen said. "Last year we had an indicator that we probably would receive $75,000 from a federal source, so we held on. We thought if we got this money, we probably can continue the units, and that hopefully the school millage would pass so there would be another income source and the schools would be able to continue supporting the programs. None of those things happened."
The TBJH unit serves as many as 65 students a day. A dedicated space at the junior high was provided by the school for the outreach program. It has served as a place where kids can go during their lunch hours and after school to take part in a variety of activities ranging from homework help/tutoring, character development, arts and crafts, fitness and sports.
Among those who will lose their job at the end of the month are Matt Muszynski, head of the TBJH unit, and his part-time aide, Andrea Hulsey. At the high school, part-time staff member Stephen Luty also will be laid off.
Nielsen said the program has been particularly important to younger kids entering the junior high who feel overwhelmed by the amount of older kids at the school. Lunch time is often a period of angst for them, and having a safe place to go helps them with their adjustment.
"The kids have really enjoyed popping into the designated space and having lunch with Matt Muszynski," said Nielsen, choking back tears. "Matt can make anyone feel at ease. He's been great for this unit, and he is definitely going to be missed. So are our other two staff members."
The after-school aspect of the TBJH unit, which offers the same services available at the club's main headquarters, also has been important both to students and parents.
"It's a vulnerable age," Nielsen said. "There is a danger of leaving junior high students alone from 3-8 p.m. Statistics show that it is during those times that kids will have their first experiences with drugs, alcohol and sex. The TBJHS Unit closed at 6 p.m., and parents could stop there and pick their kids up on their way home from work. They knew that their kids were well taken care of there."
The agency would like to find a way to transport to the Lanny Kingsbury Center those students interested in continuing the after-school programming, but doing so would require bussing, which is not a financial option at this time.
"The economy is the problem," Nielsen said of the announced cuts. "It's a sign of the times."
After March 31, the club will have six trained employees remaining on staff. They will continue to implement the same normal level of programming at the center, including a full range of summer activities.