BY JOEL SLUTSKY
BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Less than two weeks after the closing of the Bellows Falls branch of the Boys and Girls Club, the creative wheels are spinning toward a new vision to replace the organization. The nascent Friends for Change organization held a community involvement meeting on June 22 at the Rockingham Free Public Library to apprise people of the new initiative. Clipboards were passed around for people to sign up to work on teams such as site development, an advisory board, a financial development team, volunteers and a skill share group where people in the area can come in to share their skills with the youngsters. Greater Falls Connections Executive Director Laura Shairbaum opened the meeting saying, “It’s so great to see everyone come out to be part of this and help rally around the youth to facilitate what they want to see for change in the community.”
Hailee Galandak who was the acting director of the Boys and Girls Club before it closed is spearheading the new undertaking. Instead of walking away after the closing, Galandak immediately rechanneled her energy to work on this new vision. During the brief time the club, (that once had 35 children), has closed, Galandak has kept the children involved with meetings at the Flat Iron Cafe, the Community Bike Project or the Greater Falls Connections. Galandak said, “Our dream is to create a space where all are equal, where everyone’s voice is heard, where everyone has freedom of choice and where we can grow ourselves and our community.”
Greater Falls Connections Outreach Coordinator DebW itkus said, “Hailee is the answer to our prayers, kids growing up today live in a stressed culture that allows little or no free and unstructured time, play is the safest way to work through such experiences as trauma at home and gives them space to develop their voice; today kids are play starved.” Witkus continued, “We want to meet the kids were they’re at.”
The fact that the kids would have input on all committees as well as voting rights and have as much say as adults speaks volumes about the direction of this initiative. An attendee of the meeting riding on those words said, “It’s time to step up and create something for the kids because they deserve it!” A mother said, “My daughter graduated from a play based school, was given choices, made mistakes but she had a voice.” According to the Alliance for Children, “Too many schools place a double burden on young children. First, they heighten their stress by demanding that they master material beyond their developmental level then they deprive children of their chief means of dealing with that stress – creative play.”
Galandak gave some examples of the space she envisions where there are areas one can creatively paint a wall, build things in different rooms or listen to music. When asked about the cost of a new space, Galandak said she envisioned it to be about $80,000 per year excluding startup costs. Her hope is that the amount can be raised through fundraising or grants. The facility would also be under the umbrella of Youth Services who would provide insurance as well as a 501(c) status. The new facility will be available for ages 8-18.
During a video that was presented many children poignantly expressed how they felt about the closing. One child said the club was a safe place to see friends during the summer; “it was a place where I had freedom.” Galandak stated that this would be a place, “with no violence and you know you are safe regardless of how much money you have, your race or sexual orientation.”
To volunteer or get further information about this initiative, contact Hailee Galandak by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 912-644-9632.