The Crook County Kids Club has experienced year-over-year growth

by: KEVIN SPERL - Executive Director Ashley Thrasher can usually be found surrounded by kids at the Crook County Kids Club.

As executive director of the Crook County Kids Club, Ashley Thrasher certainly is entitled to her own desk.

She just doesn’t get much privacy when sitting there.

From the minute she arrives, until the doors close at the end of the day, Thrasher is constantly met with a line of kids asking questions.

“Where should I put this?” asked one.

“Did you know that they canceled the bacon game?” asked another.

To each questioner, Thrasher gives her full attention.

When there’s a lull in the action, which is rare, Thrasher may get hailed on the radio by a part-time staff member, wondering if some of the kids should be wandering the halls.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I get to hang out with kids at a level that is not typical for an adult,” she said, between requests. “I get to teach them through hands-on learning and just being able to have time to sit and talk with them is both hilarious and fun.”

A native of Prineville, Thrasher got her start at the age of 17 with the former Boys and Girls Club of Central Oregon, working with them for seven years after graduating from Crook County High School.

She tried college, but just couldn’t find what her passion was. Turns out, her passion was right here in town.

When the Boys and Girls Club closed in 2008, Patti Norris, a Kids Club board member, and Carol Parker, its inaugural director, founded Kids Club.

“Those two knew there needed to be an after-school program,” said Thrasher. “So they started Kids Club in the basement of the Lutheran Church.”

The club’s mission is to expand opportunities for Crook County’s youth with year-round activities that promote learning and self-confidence.

To that end Thrasher, during her four-year tenure, has built partnerships with a variety of organizations.

Her newest is with the Kiwanis-sponsored summer school program that meets at Cecil Sly, just down the hall from the club.

“We offered those students a $5 reduced rate to come after school to help out the parents,” explained Thrasher. “We wanted the kids to have someplace to go after they were released from school.”

In cooperation with the community’s Parks and Recreation district, Kids Club members head to the pool for an open swim program three days a week and a flag football program is in the works.

Summer camps are new to the club this year. For three days each week, club members meet with high school coaches, learning the fundamentals and basic skills of a variety of sports.

Other collaborations include Big Brother Big Sisters, The Landing’s 8 + 9 program and CASA and Lutheran Family Services.

Thrasher also considers the community at large her partner.

“We are getting the kids out into the community more often,” said Thrasher, saying that the club recently toured the Les Schwab retread center.

Whatever Thrasher has planned for the kids, it rarely includes technology, with very little time spent using computers.

“Kids do resist it at the start, but we are all about hands on learning,” said Thrasher. “After a week of being here they get into the swing of things and are constantly in activity mode.”

The policy doesn’t seem to be effecting attendance, as there are 105 kids enrolled for the summer. During the academic year, approximately 350 sign up, a significant increase from when the club started, six years ago, with 10 members.

“Our daily capacity is now 75,” explained Thrasher, “We have a lot of kids that are here for one day or so each week.”

With summer well under way, Thrasher already has her sights set on the upcoming school year and she hopes to continue with the idea of camps, introducing kids to new things.

“Maybe a community member that has a hobby could come in and teach our kids,” she said, hopefully.

Thrasher’s club will also be impacted by the closing of Cecil Sly when the new elementary school, Barnes Butte, opens in the fall of 2015.

“Jim Bates (currently the principal at Cecil Sly who will become the principal at Barnes Butte) is the vice-president of our board and plans call for us to be housed at the new school,” said Thrasher. “Our partnership with the Crook County School District is fantastic. They realize the need for us and we realize that having the partnership is immense.”

As a nonprofit where program fees make up only 30 percent of the budget, this type of cooperation is a necessary part of their survival. Although the club is not an item in the district’s budget, the space for the club is donated.

Thrasher believes the growing popularity of the club is due in large part to positive word of mouth advertising.

“I think the word is getting out that Prineville has an after-school program,” she said. “I also think the kids like to come. In the past two years, I have seen more members wanting to come as opposed to having to come because their parents work.”

It’s more likely they come because it is a pretty fun, hilarious place to be.

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