Things are looking up for Columbia Falls Boys and Girls Club

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Mandy Anderson is the new director of development for the Boys and Girls Club.

Itís shed some significant debt. Itís hired a director of development with years of fundraising experience. And now itís looking to build a new center in Columbia Falls with the help of a leader in the Columbia Fallsí financial sector.

Things are looking up for the Boys and Girls Club.

The club recently hired Mandy Anderson as its director of development. Anderson hails from Casper, Wyoming and has a masterís degree in public administration. She recently moved to the valley after her husband got a job with Acutech, the metal fabrication firm on Highway 40.

Anderson was the community programs coordinator for United Way of Natrona County more than four years prior to coming to the Flathead.

She noted the Boys and Girls Club was an integral part of the community in Natrona County and she looks to bring that same energy here.

ďIím really excited to be part of the Boys and Girls Club here and pushing the dream forward,Ē she said.

The Club currently runs out of the former Episcopal Church on Fourth Avenue West. But because of size constraints, it can only serve about 65 kids, noted director Cindy Hooker.

The club also recently shed more than half its debt, selling the roller rink in Evergreen to the Flathead Sheriffís Posse.

There are plans for a major expansion, here. Spearheaded by Freedom Bank President Don Bennett, the club aims to build a 27,000 square-foot facility with a full-sized gym, three classrooms, a 2,000 square-foot community hall, a secure entrance, a kitchen and a technology center. The hope is to work with School District 6 and build the structure just north of the Ruder Elementary gymnasium. Utilizing a community fundraising effort, Bennett said the facility will be debt-free when completed. Once finished, the club will sell the old church.

The aim of the new facility is to serve students from ages K-12, Hooker noted, boosting membership to more than 300. The center could also be used for community events like weddings and the hope is to partner with the school so it can use the gym during daytime hours. Right now, Ruder Elementary has to stop gym classes in the middle of the day because its gym also serves as its cafeteria.

Hooker also disputed claims by some School District 6 board members that Boys and Girls Clubs on a national scale werenít doing well. She noted that while clubs have consolidated some administrative staff, they are doing well.

ďThe Boys and Girls Club nationally is strong,Ē Jane Ratzlaff, who is on the steering committee for the new center said. ďWeíre strong here. We have a sustainability plan. We donít know where that (criticism) is coming from.Ē

The Columbia Falls Club, for example, saw about $34,000 in individual contributions in 2017. In 2018, that number had grown to $111,000, according to figures provided by the organization. Grant funding was also up significantly from about $61,500 in 2017 to $106,000 this year.

The plans for the new facility have also drawn interest from other organizations, most notably Intermountain, a youth support organization based in Helena, Hooker and Bennett noted.

The Club is also working on a series of events this year to raise more funds for as well.

Bennett is confident that the community will support the club and its projects. He said he got the idea for the center after the county considered moving the jail to the city. He thought, why not build a center that tries to address the problems of youth before they get into deeper trouble?

ďRegardless of what happens to the Boys and Girls Club, the need is still there,Ē he noted.

School District 6 Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said a committee made up of school staff, principals and board members expect to have a recommendation to the entire school board by April on whether to work with the club on a property donation.

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