The town of Concrete sits just off highway 20, in close proximity to Baker Lake and the gateway to the North Cascades and beyond. Sitting at the confluence of the Baker and Skagit Rivers, it’s home to a small but tightly-knit community. While it’s not the most populous area in Skagit County, it has a unique character and a neighborly vibe.
One of the highlights of the town is Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County. Established in the fall of 2018 with the help of a 21st Century Grant, the program offers an after-school option with learning opportunities to foster the interests of the youth. “The grant has been critical for us,” says Tammy Findlay, director of marketing and stewardship for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County, “but we also rely on the support of local communities.”
The club serves middle school and high school youth. It’s an especially powerful outlet for students who don’t have extracurricular activities like sports to keep them busy after school. Buses take students directly from school to the club. Students are provided free meals through the school cafeteria. This provides a huge benefit to parents who may otherwise not be able to provide healthy meals while working busy schedules.
But it’s not simply a place where students go to kill time while they wait for parents to get off work. Everything is education-based, but not necessarily in a classroom setting. Students have time to work on homework, as well as time to pursue other interests. If someone wants to go on a walk, it’s a chance to teach them about native plant species. “We have a high set of standards and I hold them to those,” says Lela Kennedy, who works at the Concrete Boys & Girls Club. Every activity is a chance to learn.
Youth Radio Hour
A product of Lela’s high standards is the radio hour that the youth put on through KSVU 90.1. Participants get a chance to broadcast live on a topic of their choosing. With the help of Lela, they pick something that interests them and dig deep into the topic. The diverse group then gets to tell the community about it in their own words. It’s an opportunity to take real world topics and learn all about them. It’s also a chance to develop a radio personality. “The kids love having a chance to rag on Ms. Lela in public,” Lela says, referring to some of the banter that develops.
This experimental experience helps the youth enjoy learning. Lela intentionally uses words that are slightly above the vocabulary level of the boys and girls in the program so that they have to learn new words. And while there are some regular guests, nearly all program participants have been featured on the show – even those who tend to be more shy and reserved. It provides a safe environment where they can say what they want and add some of their personal flair to the topics. And since there is no live audience, it helps the youth to overcome stage fright in a comfortable manner.
Above all, the Boys & Girls Club in Concrete is based around choice. Students can choose to be on the radio program, or they can opt out. They can choose to read whatever they want during reading time. The goal is to foster whatever interests and abilities they have and to give them the support they need to be the best versions of themselves.
A good example of this comes from a recent radio show. The overarching topic was mythology. Because it was such a broad topic, youth were able to find areas of interest that aligned with their curiosities. Animals like cats, dogs, and owls were covered, as well as historical societies like Egypt and Greece. Topics can range from Theodore Roosevelt to puppies. Whatever the topic, though, it’s deeply researched and engages the students.
If you’d like to hear from the students yourself, you can tune in to KSVU 90.1. Currently the show is broadcasting live at 4:00 p.m. on Thursdays, but will be moving to 10:00 a.m. in the summer. You’ll learn about Concrete and the great community work that’s going on there, and you might also learn a thing or two about puppies.