In December 2014, The Spokesman-Review reported on the state of graduation rates in area high schools. According to the article, in 2008 a little over 60 percent of Spokane’s high school seniors earned their diploma, with Rogers High School graduating just 49 percent. But great things can happen when a community comes together to make a difference. The latest numbers show the graduation rate at all five of the district’s comprehensive high schools at over 80 percent, above the state average. The plans Spokane Public Schools have implemented are instrumental in this success, and a key component of those plans involves identifying the needs of individual students and finding ways to meet those needs. For many students this means connecting with resources to keep food on their plates and connecting with mentors to help them see the best in themselves. Joan Poirier, a special programs supervisor with Spokane Public Schools told The Spokesman-Review, “As a district, we welcome the support of our partners. We know we can’t do it alone. It’s become a true collaborative effort.” One of the partners making a significant difference in our community is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County currently serves over 2,500 members, with a $10 membership fee. In 2014, 98 percent of Club members successfully completed their grade level, and when asked, 97 percent expected that they would complete high school. They expect success from themselves and they have confidence in their own abilities. That confidence is key to anything they achieve. But that confidence is hard fought for many Club members.
Ken Pickens, President of the Board of Directors, was one of those kids.
He spoke at the 2017 Doors to Dreams Dinner and Auction about growing up in a difficult environment, shaped by alcoholism, abuse and few positive role models. Friends and siblings weren’t taking the best paths themselves. As rough as that was, you will find kids toughing through worse situations in all three Spokane Clubs and in every school in the district. Ken says the turning point for him was when he found “The Boys Club”, as it was called back then. He says it gave him a place to be that was separate from all that, where he could think about something, anything, else. The key moment in his life, he says, was when he went on a backpacking trip with the Club. At one point in the trip he found himself sitting alone, admiring the scenery of the mountain they were hiking. He says that was the moment where he truly found himself, the Ken Pickens who grew up to become a successful parent, coach, business owner and Board President of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County. He realized he could make the choice to be that person, or he could make the choice to be like so many other people in his life. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County provides the space and experiences to help facilitate those kinds of moments for kids who might make different choices otherwise.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County has fed thousands of children through their meal programs, but Pickens says that isn’t all they feed. They feed the love that lives in these kids, and they feed the need to have somebody listen.
“It takes a village,” Pickens says, echoing the spirit of collaborative effort Joan Poirier advocates,”and you are the villagers”.
He urges all of us to have our own moment, where we make our own choice, and say,”I will step up. I will be the one.”
Attendees of the Gala took Pickens’ message to heart. Before the paddle raise, Emcee Mark Peterson announced that an anonymous donor would match all the paddles. Peterson started out bold with an opportunity to donate $10,000. Someone stepped up. Then next opportunity was $5,000. A few more stepped up. In just the first few minutes of the paddle raise, donors gave $40,000, and with just the paddle raise alone donors gave over $200,000.
For many people these days it is becoming easy to slip into feelings of hopelessness, feeling like there isn’t much you can do to make a difference, like there isn’t much you can do to change the world. But if you think about the difference the Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County can make for one child with even just $10, that is changing their world.