She knows island teens

New Boys and Girls Club director Jennifer Wood grew up here.

Jennifer Wood was once an island teen. Now she’s reaching out to today’s Bainbridge teens.

Then as now, “There was not much to do on the weekend,” said Wood, recalling that the only cinemas were in Silverdale and Lynwood Center, where one movie would show for a month at a time. Being idle, bad choices were made in the absence of positive influences.

She aims to change that.

To steer teens to better choices, Wood takes the reins of the Boys and Girls Club of Bainbridge as executive director, after Mark Gurtler stepped down in October.

With the Boys and Girls Club of King County since 1997, Wood has been on the fund-raising side at the corporate office and worked at clubs in Kirkland and as associate director at Mercer Island.

When the job opened up on Bainbridge, she eagerly applied to return and give back to the community she grew up in.

“We focus on inspiring and enabling kids – especially from disadvantaged circumstances – to realize their full potential,” she said.

Though Bainbridge is seen as affluent, Wood says, “there is a need. Single parents come to be part of a dynamic school system. (For teens) it’s such a pivotal time in their lives.”

At the same time, kids with access to money and idle afternoons are also at risk. In her teen years, Wood saw “those privileges abused by others.”

“Today’s kids have unfiltered Internet at home. When the parents commute, it’s hard to see everything your kids are doing,” she said.

The Boys and Girls Club provides programs and positive choices after school from 3-7 p.m., which studies show is a risky period for kids before parents get home. The club is open until 6:30 p.m. and has programs on early dismissal days for an extra fee.

For $20 a year, kids can hang out at the clubhouse in the Bainbridge Island Aquatics Center and play pool and foosball, use the new computer lab and freely come and go. No one is turned away for lack of ability to pay.

The club also offers rock climbing trips, group games or art classes “to help kids find what they’re successful in,” Wood said.

On an average day, 75 kids will go to the clubhouse that has a total enrollment of 600.

The club started offering programs to fifth and sixth graders at Woodward Middle School four years ago and now has 160 enrolled there.

Getting kids to reach out to the community are the Torch Club Keystone programs at the middle school. Kids work together on volunteer projects like the “rake and dash” where kids rake and bag leaves in somebody’s yard and dash, leaving a courtesy note.

For teens, the club has two part-time coordinators visiting leadership classes at the high school and organizing activities.

Expanding teen programming will require more funds and help. Wood says promoting community relations and better communicating what the club does for kids is a key part of that.

“We want to show the club makes ‘ho-hum kids’ into dynamic kids,” she said.

She also hopes to collaborate with other organizations already plugged into the teen population like the Teen Center, Bainbridge Youth Services and the club-sponsored Youth Lead and Serve.

For partnering organizations, the club could bring in opportunities for scholarships and grants from the national organization, Boys and Girls Club of America, which has some 3,400 clubs nationwide and on overseas bases.

The Boys and Girls Club of Bainbridge will have an open house for parents and kids to explore their offerings from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 8 at the clubhouse in the aquatics center. Call the club for more information at 855-8486.

“We’ve developed the best possible program for K-6; now we need to focus on teens,” Wood said. “We’re trying to focus on that presence.”

“We’re now in the second stage of life.”

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