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August 29, 2003


LA CROSSE, Wis.— Eighteen-year-old Jed Denning is one of many young adults who have taken part in the Boys and Girls Clubs activities through the Hamilton Elementary site. And, like others, he’s excited about the partnership between Viterbo University and the Boys and Girls Clubs—the first of its kind in the nation—which will lead to the construction of a $7.5 million, 58,000 square foot joint recreational and educational center on property owned by the university.

Denning was a high-school dropout. But, thanks to his own determination and the advice he got from the university students at the Boys and Girls Clubs who served as his mentors, Denning completed his GED last year and is studying to be an auto mechanic this fall.

 "I realized that my friends, everyone, would go to school, and I sat home doing nothing and being bored. I told Ryan and Rich (from the Boys and Girls Clubs) that I was thinking about going back to school and they said ‘Good! Go back to school,’" said Denning.

 That kind of mentoring and bonding is sure to continue in the new joint facility. In fact, Viterbo student teachers, student nurses, and student social workers will be volunteering and helping at the new center. "It’ll bring people together," said Denning. "It’s an extra spot to hang out and get to know other kids, and when the college kids have their homework done, they can go and spend time with the kids there, too."

 "Yeah. We can hang out with college kids who can give us facts about how it is in college, about the rules, doing homework, being responsible for themselves, and facing the consequences for things," said Quincy Goodwin, 11, who hopes to be a "heart doctor" one day.

Currently enrolled at Viterbo University and the assistant site director at the Hamilton club, Rich Hernandez knows a thing or two about getting involved at the Boys and Girls Clubs from a student volunteer’s perspective. With the new building, he said, "College students in education will get a real chance to find out if they want to be in education. Others who are undecided about their careers can work with the kids and see if they like that. If they want to volunteer and find out, they’ll only need to go across the street."

To date, just over $4.7 million has been raised for the collaborative project, which is over $1 million more than when the project was announced in early July. The facility will be located on Eighth Street between Winnebago and Mississippi streets. Construction is expected to begin in May 2004, but it can’t begin soon enough for the kids and staff who spend time at the Hamilton club.

With 60-100 drop-ins a day and limited room, the Hamilton site is bursting at the seams. "We’re making do," said Hernandez. "We often have 30 people in a very small gym, 40 in our tech lab at times. We’re packed to capacity."

The new building will far exceed their existing space and include three regulation-size gymnasiums, a teen center, a cardiovascular fitness room, a 1/8-mile walking and jogging track, game rooms, a free-weight strength center, a computer lab, cooking room, and art room. Some of the space, like the gymnasiums, will be shared, while other sections will be designated specifically for either Viterbo or the Boys and Girls Clubs.

"This will really provide us with more space for better time scheduling, and we’ll be able to offer more activities," said Hernandez.

But it’s the regulation-size gymnasiums that really get some of the local kids excited. The current facility only has 10-foot rims, which In addition to serving the Hamilton site and Viterbo University students, the new recreational and educational center will also serve La Crosse’s other south side Boys and Girls Clubs’ sites—at Lincoln Middle School and Huber Homes—and provide space for Viterbo University’s youth programs and summer camps.

For interviews with any of the following, please contact Ryan Scheel, Hamilton club site director, at 608-784-5656.
Hamilton Club Members: Jed Denning, Quincy Goodwin, or Chris Osterhout
Site Director Ryan Scheel
Assistant Site Director Rich Hernandez

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