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Shane Thomas - Boys and Girls Club of the North Valley's Youth of the Year

01/23/2015 09:16AM ● By Claudia Mosby

A Place to Belong

February 2015
By Claudia Mosby
By Eric Leslie

Shane Thomas was "very shy” the first time Lisa Spiegler met him at the Oroville Teen Center, one of nine sites of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley in Butte County.

“He came in with some friends and would crack a smile once in a while but he sat in the corner,” recalls Spiegler, director of the center. “He was searching for a place to belong.”

Staff soon discovered Shane’s artistic and intellectual gifts. He connected with the Leader-in-Training program, a service-learning group built around civic engagement and community betterment, and Spiegler says, “Within six months, he was still shy but made it very clear he wanted to be part of these opportunities.”

Fast-forward four years. Shane Thomas is a senior in high school and the Boys and Girls Club of the North Valley's Youth of the Year for the second consecutive year, chosen for his exemplary service to the club and community, excellent academic performance and character and leadership abilities. He speaks to various local organizations and clubs, educating them about the Boys and Girls Club and its Youth of the Year program.

Thomas chose to apply to Chico State University, where a four-year scholarship awaits him. A former College Connection student (the Boys and Girls Club helped him with the application and mock interviews), he says, “As an eighth grader, I may have had ideas about what I wanted to do in the future, but the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley helped me set actual college and career goals.” Those goals include pursuing a degree in aeronautical engineering and enlisting in the Air Force after graduation.

“We serve the toughest and hardest to reach kids in the community,” says Rashell Brobst, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley. “Those one-stop shops for an hour a week typically are not going to help the highest-risk kids. We attempt to stop the cycle so a new cycle can be created.” For Thomas’ family, this new cycle extends to his younger siblings, who followed him into the club.

Begun in 1860 by three Connecticut women to foster character development in boys left roaming local streets, the Boys and Girls Club of America today serves almost 4 million youth in 4,100 club facilities throughout the United States and at youth centers on U.S. military installations worldwide.

In 2000, the Chico and Paradise clubs merged to become the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley, expanding in the last 10 years to include the Teen Center in Oroville and several pods at Butte County Juvenile Hall. The Juvenile Hall facility uses a camp atmosphere and is only one of four such programs in the state. “Recidivism was 80 percent and we have been
able to flip that to about 30 percent for the kids we are case managing,” says Brobst.

The organization believes service learning and leadership programs cultivate character. “We have national partnerships with Old Navy and Gap who have committed to taking our teens as interns,” adds Brobst. “We also had members work hand-in-hand on a project with the Feather River Recreation and Park District.”

The park landscaping project was created and implemented quickly, says park district General Manager Ann Willmann. “It was one of the best experiences I have had collaborating with another agency and seeing a visible outcome," she says. "Th e kids learned how to install an irrigation system and read a planting plan. In return, we had a project completed that we did not have the time to do.” Willmann is already considering future projects and says interest has spread to other local agencies.

Boys and Girls Club funding comes from declining government grants and increasingly competitive private foundation awards. “We are figuring out how to reach out to the community to sustain ourselves as other funding sources are disappearing,” says Brobst. The organization’s Valentine’s Gala on February 7, at which Thomas will speak, is its biggest annual fundraiser, returning 100 percent of proceeds from the live and silent auctions to the

Although Thomas will age out of the program at 18, he was recently hired as a recreational staff aide at the Oroville Teen Center and plans to continue working while attending school. “He’s a great asset for us,” adds Center Director Spiegler. “He is not afraid to ask questions. He truly wants to be all he can be.” • (530) 899-0335