For the first time since Karen Houser took over the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe as executive director eight years ago, the organization will close its doors for two weeks over the winter holiday break.The closure, which will take place from Dec. 22 until Jan. 6, is a symptom of larger financial problems facing the club. The nonprofit, which provides after-school and all-day programs to South Shore children and teens, has already downsized its staff and increased membership fees about three weeks ago to close a $130,000 deficit, Houser said.The club is “a victim of its own success,” club President Jeff Tillman said. The Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe has about 800 members who make about 45,000 visits a year. When Houser first started, the main site at Al Tahoe Elementary School served about 85 students a day. That number has more than doubled in eight years, yet the funds haven’t kept pace with the growth. The organization needs about $600,000 per year to run its programs, with money coming from grants, donations, fundraisers and membership fees, according to Houser. Faced with a $130,000 deficit this year, the club had to cut one full-time staff member, limit the hours of some part-time workers, and raise membership costs from $35 to $100. “We’ve had to take the steps to match what we have. We’ve done some downsizing, made some changes. In a way we’re just like any other business that’s struggling in this economy,” Houser said. By shutting down for two weeks in December and January, Houser estimates that the club will save about $30,000. Since the holiday programs typically have fewer participants, Houser didn’t think the closure would impact too many families. It’s a matter of prioritizing, she said. With grants becoming increasingly competitive, the club relies more than ever on community support, Houser said. Heightening awareness plays a part in the club’s new business strategy, and Houser said the organization welcomes donations of all sizes. Though the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe is part of the national Boys & Girls Club of America, the parent organization doesn’t provide any financial support to the local clubs. “The community response from parents is, ‘I don’t know what I’d do without the Boys & Girls club.’ It’s a combination of letting the community know the need and importance,” Houser said. Kristi Boosman, who has a daughter in the club, praised the organization’s programs and said that though the holiday closure won’t effect her family drastically, she knows other parents who rely on the club over the school break. “The Boys & Girls Club is such a critical support system in Lake Tahoe, where we have so many parents working multiple jobs to survive. It’s really a wonderful place. The staff is warm and supportive, and I feel good sending my kid there. We may need to step up to the plate to continue to support these services,” Boosman said. Houser said closing the Boys & Girls Club for other school breaks is under discussion. Closure for any organization is always a possibility, Houser said, and the club faces the challenge of creating sustainable funding and a new business plan. “We need to change the way we do business, turning challenges into opportunities. Our kids are our future,” Houser said. For more information, visit www.bgclt.org.
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