Club KC branches out to reach more kids on summer nights

04/11/2014 6:40 PM

04/11/2014 7:20 PM

Over the past two summers, Kansas City’s government-sponsored Club KC has proved a popular weekend hangout — and an alternative to causing trouble on the streets. Nighttime basketball and soccer programs have also been a big draw.

But what about those kids who aren’t into dancing, loud music and sports?

This summer, the city is branching out to offer new locations and programs geared toward the arts, culture and other recreation appealing to a wider range of middle school and high school students.

“We’re recognizing that kids are just like adults,” Mayor Sly James said. “They have a lot of different interests. Not all kids want to go dance. Some kids may be interested in art. … We’re just trying to make sure we’re providing as many options as we possibly can.”

James has said repeatedly since he took office in 2011 that the city needs to provide more wholesome activities for teens but that city government can’t do it all. He has appealed to the private sector to get involved, and that’s finally starting to happen. From arts organizations to the Boys and Girls Clubs to the Kansas City Public Library system, partnerships will be part of Club KC this summer.

“We reach a lot of kids, but we don’t reach all the kids,” said Roosevelt Lyons, who helped launch Club KC when he was in the mayor’s office and who is now community services manager for Kansas City parks.

Lyons said many teens have pleaded for more arts offerings, and the new partnerships will provide more variety at more venues than in the past.

Club KC began in summer 2012 after crowds of unruly teens had caused problems on the Country Club Plaza in 2011. The program built in popularity in its first season and peaked with as many as 1,000 high school students flocking to Brush Creek Community Center over a weekend in late July 2012. The city also held events geared to middle schoolers at the Gregg/Klice and Tony Aguirre community centers.

Last summer, the city documented more than 9,000 visits to Club KC events at various community centers, with participation averaging 755 each weekend. The city also attracted thousands to its nighttime basketball, soccer and volleyball events.

Lyons said he hopes Club KC can grow to 15,000 visits this year, although he admits that’s an ambitious goal.

Club KC won’t begin until Memorial Day weekend. Many details remain to be worked out before teens start signing up for programs, but preliminary plans include:

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ArtsTech:

The parks board has just approved a $32,500 contract with ArtsTech, 1522 Holmes St., which for years has worked with urban youths to develop marketable artistic and technical skills using hands-on training in visual arts, graphic design, photography and computers. The budget will pay for artists, supplies and security to work with 100 to 150 youths at the center on five Friday nights during the summer, with a culminating event in August at Union Station.

“Kids will have a safe place to come and fun place to come,” said ArtsTech executive director Dave Sullivan.

He envisions participants designing and creating exhibits, performances and products for an arts “carnival” at summer’s end. ArtsTech will also offer modern dance and music instruction in a hip-hop style at each Friday event.

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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art:

The museum plans to welcome Club KC participants June 6 for a nighttime tour of its exhibits and programs. It then will provide teachers and supplies to conduct arts classes for an hour on Friday nights during the summer. Each class would be open to 20 to 25 students at both the Brush Creek and Gregg/Klice community centers.

“This is piloting to see how we can grow this program,” said Mary Susan Albrecht, manager of teen programs for the Nelson. “We have a commitment to teens, and we understand they are our future audience as well as our future artists, so this is us really thinking this would be a win-win partnership.”

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Plaza Library:

Although teens like to gather on the Country Club Plaza, a nearby venue hopes to attract them as well.

Wick Thomas, teen services manager with the Plaza and Waldo libraries, said he reached out to the mayor’s office last fall to become part of Club KC. Logistics are still being worked out, but he envisions hosting several hundred kids at the Plaza Library on the second Saturday night in June, July and August, when the library is normally closed.

“I think we’ll keep some of the club atmosphere, have it be fun,” Thomas said. “But we’ll introduce them to the services the library offers that they might not know about.”

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Boys and Girls Clubs:

The parks board also has approved a $28,750 contract with the Boys and Girls Clubs to host about 120 middle school students from 6 to 11 p.m. during 12 summer weekends at its J Wagner unit at 2405 Elmwood Ave. Lyons said this is especially important because middle schoolers often have trouble finding transportation and this serves a part of the city that doesn’t have a nearby community center.

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Hickman Mills:

The city has a $15,000 contract with the Atkins Group to expand Club KC to Hickman Mills Junior High School. The three- to four-week program is expected to serve more than 250 youths on Friday nights in a part of town that has lost three movie theaters, two bowling alleys, a skating rink and other fun places for teens.

James said that in addition to recreation and entertainment, Kansas City still needs to step up and provide more jobs and internships for teens. City government has a Bright Future program that will provide employment to about 75 high school and college students, but many more students have applied.

Mayoral spokeswoman Joni Wickham said some corporate partners have said they can’t provide internships but might be able to provide money, while some nonprofits have internships but no funds. So the city will try to bring those two groups together. She said the mayor will try to raise funds from corporate donors at a meeting April 24.

“We’re really focused right now on providing more employment opportunities so kids can get jobs,” James said. “It’s a fledgling effort at this point, but we’re going to get it done.”

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