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The funding from Kiwanis makes it possible to open the doors of the Crook County Kids Club to all who need their services

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY WAYNE LOONEY
 - After supporting a summer school program for eight years, the Kiwanis Club of Prineville is focusing its efforts and finances on bolstering the Crook County Kids Club. The Prineville Kiwanis International continues to support many important causes in the community and recently, the club has taken on a new project.

The local group will begin to support the Crook County Kids Club. The Prineville Kiwanis International supported the Crook County School District summer school for the past eight years.

"It was our banner project for a lot of years. We worked in collaboration with the school district, and it was a good and enjoyable collaboration. We felt that we met our goals there. Our mission was to try to help kids who were underperforming in reading and math through the summer," commented Kiwanis Director Wayne Looney.

Looney indicated that when they initiated the summer school project, it was not intended to be a long-term project. The results made such an impact that they supported it for a total of eight years. In an average year, the program previously served 70 to 80 students. For the 2021 year, the district served 563 in grades K-3.

"They really changed the curriculum a lot. They used a storyline approach, which I am absolutely an advocate of," Looney said of the positive additions to the summer school.

He went on to say, "Our hope was that the school district would see a proven program, and that they would take it over, which indeed is what happened. It was a convenient time for us to refocus, and so we have."

Looney shared that their second annual Casino Night fundraiser was very successful and noted that the event was probably four or five times more successful than any of their other fundraising events.

"We have always enjoyed really great support of the community. When we did this Casino Night, the stars got all aligned and people wanted to come out and have a good time."

He added that their summer school project has been well supported, as well as the splash park at Stryker Park. Looney stressed that their club has a strong policy amongst their group to not have a big bank account but to take the money they have been given and expand it and get it back into the community for the purpose it was given to them.

With the need for a new project, the Kiwanis Club began brainstorming ideas that would align with their goals, which included working with the school district and Crook County Parks and Recreation. In addition to some capital projects in the community, they decided on the Crook County Kids Club. With limited options for after-school childcare, Looney noted that the feedback from the community reinforced the importance of supporting this nonprofit.

After bringing back the overwhelming feedback to the club, Looney said that they made the decision to help the Crook County Kids Club with financial support, to enable them to serve as many parents as possible and eliminate any waiting lists.

Director Ashely Thrasher has been with the Crook County Kids Club for eight years.

"Thankfully we have such a good partnership with the school district that the summer school day ended and then a lot of schools were bussed to Kids Club afterward. It is a good fit," said Thrasher.

"The service she provides is tremendous for this community. In my opinion we are lucky to have somebody who has the passion she has, as it's a hard job," said Looney.

He added that the collaboration that Thrasher has with the school district is perfect.

"There is nothing that can be better, in my opinion, than the child being able to transition in a building that was built for their use, to after-school daycare by somebody who is running it who cares. What a great deal that is, so the obvious thing for us is to try to expand that."

The Kid's Club had a waiting list, which Looney said is also a barrier for working parents. He talks to many employers who indicated that lack of childcare is often a barrier in hiring good employees.

Thrasher noted that the Crook County Kids Club was originally founded when the Boys and Girls Club closed. With the need for childcare and a place for kids to go after school, the nonprofit began in 2008. It was initially housed in the basement of the Lutheran church. Eventually, it was moved to the Crooked River Elementary (formerly Cecil Sly Elementary), then to Barnes Butte Elementary and eventually it was expanded to Steins Pillar Elementary. By 2019, Thrasher said that they were serving 120 kids at Barnes Butte Elementary.

"We were running out of space with so many kids. We already had a plan to add a second location, with the opening of Steins Pillar," she when on to say.

When the pandemic hit, they ended up adding the other location at Steins Pillar, due to restrictions and regulations of group sizes. Shortly afterwards, they asked Principal Kimberly Bonner to expand to Crooked River, and now have a location at each elementary school. They average 50 students at each location per day, with an average total of 150 kids.

"Thankfully, Kiwanis came in, because now we have the funding to hire three additional staff people, so we can open the doors to more kids."

Prior to the commitment from Kiwanis, the Crook County Kids Club had a waiting list for new clients. The funding from Kiwanis makes it possible to open the doors to all who need their services. With the additional funding, they now have 19 staff and maintain a one to 20 kids/adult ratio.

Thrasher said that it is $60 per month per child, and if more than two children in one family, it would only be for the first two children in a family. Thrasher said that their capacity will accommodate any childcare requests immediately, as well as through summer. Their summer dates are June 27 through Aug. 19. There will be transportation available from summer school to the Kids Club at the end of the summer school day.

"Our families are so thankful. I can't tell you how many emails I get from parents who say, 'Honestly, without you we wouldn't be able to go to work. Now the school day ends at 2 p.m., instead of 3 p.m., so that is four hours that kids are unattended if it wasn't for Kid's Club.'"

"I am just really proud of Kids Club and our staff, because we did not break the entire time through COVID," she said, except the initial time that everyone closed at the beginning.

For more information about the Crook County Kids Club, go to

Crookcountykids.org


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