TWIN FALLS — The Boys & Girls Clubs of Magic Valley is moving forward with the second phase of an expansion project — an 8,000-square-foot addition to create space for a teen center and kindergarten program.
The nonprofit — which has clubs in Twin Falls, Buhl and Rupert — is seeing an increasing demand as the Magic Valley’s population continues to grow. But due to safety concerns and building space constraints, the Twin Falls club can’t serve every family in need and has a waiting list.
A capital campaign is underway and the nonprofit hopes to break ground on an addition to the Twin Falls club sometime in 2019.
“We have (had) a waiting list on and off for about four to five years,” executive director Lindsey Westburg said. “That has been a topic of conversation amongst our board and club leadership.”
The number of families on the waiting list varies but usually hovers around 75. With a waiting list, the expansion project is “really overdue,” said Mike McBride, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors and chairman of the capital campaign. “This is something we really need to do.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Magic Valley has about 275 children attend on a daily basis at its Twin Falls club — before and after school, and on school holidays — and about 300 during the summertime.
Membership is only $20 per year, plus an added fee for some special programs. There scholarship options for families in need and no child is turned away due to inability to pay.
The fundraising goal for the capital campaign is about $1.9 million.
During the first phase of fundraising, the club brought in about $630,000 by approaching people who’ve donated in the past. Then, it sought funding from foundations and received up to a $600,000 match from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. Each donation the nonprofit receives through this spring will be matched at 100 percent.
“That was definitely a great and positive thing for our capital campaign,” Westburg said. Now, the club will go to the community seeking donations.
About three years ago, the club had some major work and renovations that were needed, Westburg said. “We had been here for 18 years and when you have upwards of 300 kids coming through your facility, things tend to wear out.”
Work included essentially gutting the inside of the facility — with updates such as new flooring and paint — and rebuilding the front lobby to enhance security. That was phase I of the expansion project, completed in summer 2016.
Now, the club wants to pursue phase II — the 8,000-square-foot addition it’s fundraising for now.
McBride has been a member of the nonprofit’s board for about one-and-a-half years and volunteered to help lead the charge to raise money for the expansion.
“As a longtime resident of Twin Falls, I see (the clubs) as a really important piece in the future development of the city,” said McBride, a resident of Twin Falls since 1978 who has served on many different organizations’ boards.
So often these days, families have both parents working, he said, and it’s important for children to have a safe place to go and receive enrichment in areas such as computers, robotics and science.
Program offerings enhance what’s already being done in the Twin Falls School District, McBride said, and allow children the opportunity to learn new things. “To me, that’s just a real plus for the community.”
Currently, teenagers are using two small offices at the Twin Falls club as their space. “Right now, we don’t have a space that we have for teens that is their own,” Westburg said.
The new teen center will be upstairs at the club and will have its own entrance so teens don’t have to come in through the front doors with the younger children.
“We really want to have a space for them,” Westburg said, adding there’s not much else beyond school extracurricular activities for teens to do in Twin Falls. “We want them to have a place they can come.”
The new space will have a coffee-shop feel, Westburg said. The teen program provides students with opportunities such as learning about college and job readiness. “We really need more space to be able to do that.”
Another program at the club that has seen immense growth is K-Netic, Westburg said. With half-day kindergarten classes in the Twin Falls School District, that leaves families with kindergartners looking for care for the other half-day.
K-Netic costs families $175 per month. The club provides transportation to and from school, meals, and care and activities when children aren’t in school.
“It’s really just an extension of their kindergarten day,” Westburg said.
McBride said he hopes if things go well with the capital campaign, groundbreaking will happen sometime in 2019. There are a few more grants from large organizations the Boys & Girls Clubs is pursuing, he said, as well as seeking community participation. “We’re asking people to step up and help if they can.”
TWIN FALLS — Matt McFarlin and Erica Estes have seen the benefits firsthand when children are exposed to rock climbing, like an increase in self-esteem and drop in anxiety.
They’re co-founders of the Idaho Climbing Project, which launched in June and they’re in the process of obtaining 501c(3) status as a nonprofit organization. They’re pursuing a project — with an approximately $14,000 price tag — to install a rock climbing wall at Robert Stuart Middle School in Twin Falls and create an after-school rock climbing club at the school.
The wall will be installed soon — likely in early January — in Robert Stuart’s annex gymnasium. Idaho Climbing Project leaders hope to have rock climbing walls installed at other Twin Falls middle schools in the future.
Estes works at Gemstone Climbing Center and McFarlin is a science teacher at Robert Stuart Middle School, in addition to being a youth climbing instructor at Gemstone. They started having a conversation in May about what children in the middle school need and how to help them.
“Climbing sports build a resilient child,” Estes said last week. Through climbing, children learn life lessons such as how to move forward when they stumble, she said, adding climbing is extremely relevant to life.
It’s also an opportunity for outdoor recreation, Estes said. “It just promotes a combination of physical and mental wellness.”
Local children already have access to popular rock climbing spots in south-central Idaho such as Dierkes Lake Park in Twin Falls and City Of Rocks National Reserve near Almo.
“It’s nice — we have so much access to climbing right here in our community,” Estes said.
When Estes and McFarlin were talking in the spring about what middle schoolers need, another topic of discussion was how to make rock climbing more affordable and accessible.
“We’ve got to take climbing to the kids,” Estes said. She later added: “Affordable to us is no cost at all.”
There has been chatter among Robert Stuart students about the rock climbing wall coming soon, Estes said.
“The interest is very, very strong for this activity,” McFarlin said.
In addition to offering rock climbing, McFarlin and Estes hope to provide resources for children and their families through Robert Stuart’s rock climbing program and bring in professionals to address topics like mental health and substance abuse. Those topics are based on feedback McFarlin received from his students.
Also, McFarlin hopes to address post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly among Robert Stuart’s refugee students.
On Dec. 20, equipment for the rock climbing wall was in storage at Robert Stuart. McFarlin plans to outfit an unused classroom near the annex gym after Christmas break to use for the climbing club.
Students in the College of Southern Idaho’s welding technology program created the metal components needed for the rock climbing wall, which will be movable using a motor and stored upright.
The Idaho Climbing Project is paying the CSI welding program for its work. The total price is significantly lower than anything the nonprofit could have purchased, Estes said, adding it received a $45,000 quote from a company that makes rock climbing walls.
Estes said they’ve been encouraged by the school, community and rock climbers’ responses to the project at Robert Stuart.
Both McFarlin and Estes are already actively involved in rock climbing and Gemstone Climbing Center’s youth team. McFarlin also recently worked with students from Bridge Academy Middle School in Twin Falls over a six-week course — which wrapped up earlier this month — teaching them to rock climb at Gemstone.
When Bridge Academy students started the course, some were saying, “I can’t do this,” McFarlin said. But by the end of the six weeks, they reported their overall anxiety level had dropped, he said, and their self-esteem had improved.
Also, when children understand the connection between taking care of themselves and their performance in rock climbing, Estes said, they start wanting to take care of their bodies — and not just because adults tell them to.
Through Gemstone’s youth team, there are challenges such as a no-sugar week or no-soda week. It provides group accountability.
Soon, students at Robert Stuart Middle School will have a similar opportunity to discover the benefits of rock climbing.
If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.
AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq — In an unannounced trip to Iraq on Wednesday, President Donald Trump staunchly defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from neighboring Syria despite a drumbeat of criticism from military officials and allies who don’t think the job fighting Islamic State militants there is over.
Trump, making his first presidential visit to troops in a troubled region, said it’s because the U.S. military had all but eliminated IS-controlled territory in both Iraq and Syria that he decided to withdraw 2,000 forces from Syria. He said the decision to leave Syria showed America’s renewed stature on the world stage and his quest to put “America first.”
“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” Trump told U.S. servicemen and women at al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq, about 100 miles west of Baghdad. “We’re respected again as a nation.”
The decision to pull U.S. forces from Syria, however, stunned national security advisers and U.S. allies and prompted the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was not on the trip, and the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic extremist group. The militant group, also known as ISIS, has lost nearly all its territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.
Iraq declared IS defeated within its borders in December 2017, but Trump’s trip was shrouded in secrecy, which has been standard practice for presidents flying into conflict areas.
Air Force One, lights out and window shutters drawn, flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad in darkness Wednesday evening. George W. Bush made four trips to Iraq as president and President Barack Obama made one.
During his three-plus hours on the ground, Trump did not meet with any Iraqi officials, but spoke on the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi. He stopped at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on his way back, for a second unannounced visit to troops and military leaders.
Trump’s Iraq visit appeared to have inflamed sensitivities about the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. The two major blocs in the Iraqi parliament both condemned the visit, likening it to a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The airbase where Trump spoke is about 155 mile from Hajin, a Syrian town near the Iraqi border where Kurdish fighters are still battling IS extremists. Trump has said IS militants have been eradicated, but the latest estimate is that IS still holds about 60 square miles of territory in that region of Syria, although fighters also fled the area and are in hiding in other pockets of the country.
Mattis was supposed to continue leading the Pentagon until late February but Trump moved up his exit and announced that Patrick Shanahan, deputy defense secretary, would take the job on Jan. 1 and he was in “no rush” to nominate a new defense chief.
“Everybody and his uncle wants that position,” Trump told reporters traveling with him in Iraq. “And also, by the way, everybody and her aunt, just so I won’t be criticized.”
Critics said the U.S. exit from Syria, the latest in Trump’s increasingly isolationist-style foreign policy, would provide an opening for IS to regroup, give Iran a green light to expand its influence in the region and leave U.S.-backed Kurdish forces vulnerable to attacks from Turkey.
“I made it clear from the beginning that our mission in Syria was to strip ISIS of its military strongholds,” said Trump, who wore an olive green bomber style jacket as he was welcomed by chants of “USA! USA!” and speakers blaring Lee Greenwood’s song, “God Bless the USA.”
“We’ll be watching ISIS very closely,” said Trump, who was joined by first lady Melania Trump.
Trump also said he had no plans to withdraw the 5,200 U.S. forces in Iraq. That’s down from about 170,000 in 2007 at the height of the surge of U.S. forces to combat sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.
Trump spoke on the phone with the prime minister, but the White House said security concerns and the short notice of the trip prevented the president from meeting him.
The prime minister’s office said “differences in points of view over the arrangements” prevented the two from meeting but they discussed security issues and Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria over the phone. Abdul-Mahdi’s office also did not say whether he had accepted an invitation to the White House. But Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on the flight back that the Iraqi leader had agreed to come.
Trump said that after U.S. troops in Syria return home, Iraq could still be used to stage attacks on IS militants.
“We can use this as a base if we wanted to do something in Syria,” he said. “If we see something happening with ISIS that we don’t like, we can hit them so fast and so hard” that they “really won’t know what the hell happened.”
Trump said it’s time to leave Syria because the U.S. should not be involved in nation-building, and that other wealthy nations should shoulder the cost of rebuilding Syria. He also said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to battle “any remnants of ISIS” in Syria, which shares a border with Turkey.