BOIS FORTE RESERVATION - “He told me ‘I want to make your day’…and then asked me if I was sitting down.”This wasn’t one of those phone scams that pop up on your …
BOIS FORTE RESERVATION - “He told me ‘I want to make your day’…and then asked me if I was sitting down.”
This wasn’t one of those phone scams that pop up on your caller ID multiple times a day. Travis Vake, who manages the Boys and Girls Club programs on Bois Forte Reservation, was talking with the regional director of the Boys and Girls Club that oversees his program. He called to tell Vake that an anonymous donor had given $50,000 to the Bois Forte Boys and Girls Club.
The donation, received earlier this month, was designated for the food program.
“Apparently the donor had heard about what we were doing and appreciated it,” Vake said.
Last fall, using money from the CARES Act, the Boys and Girls Club of Bois Forte had created a supplemental food program for the children who use the club, their families, and others in the Nett Lake and Vermilion communities.
In addition to providing meals and snacks to children while they were at the club, staff was packing up bags with healthy snacks, easy-to-prepare meals, and other foods. These “food bags” were sent home with the children for the weekend, and also made available to others in the community.
The timing of the donation was perfect. Vake said they had run out of CARES funding for the food bags last month.
The money will be used to continue and supplement the community food bag program, as well as fund food costs over the summer when they are offering both lunch and dinner, and for a series of monthly community meals that will be hosted in alternate months at Vermilion and Nett Lake.
The Boys and Girls Club is funded by Bois Forte Tribal Government, along with some supplemental funding and grants for special programming.
“It is so unique to get a significant donation from a private donor,” Vake said.
The Boys and Girls Club offers free afterschool and summer programming for school age children, both on and off the reservation. Children get help with homework, play games and sports, create arts and craft projects, do culturally relevant projects and activities, and also have a lot of fun. The program brings in outside teachers (this year via Zoom) to provide educational programming not available at local schools.
Vake is relatively new to running the program. He was a special education teacher in Chisholm, serves on the Chisholm City Council, and also is a three-season referee for high school sports.
“I am very proud of my staff,” he said. “They’ve been able to put together the new food program.”
Wendy Deatherage, who manages the club branch at Nett Lake, said the grant will allow them to do some amazing things.
“It’s not just about food insecurity,” she said. “It’s also about educating and modeling healthy eating habits.”
Deatherage said one of the goals of their food program is pre-diabetes prevention.
“We are really excited to be able to do more outreach to our community,” she said, “not just for club members and their families, but to our elders.”
Plans call for teaching club members about healthy grocery shopping, budgeting for food, as well as food preparation.
The staff is still working on a plan for organizing community meals that will be “COVID safe.” Club members will help cook and serve the meals.
After a long winter of isolation, such community gatherings, when allowed, are essential, she said.
The grant helped validate all the hard work their staff puts into the programming.
“What we did affected someone,” she said. “Day-in and day-out you work and hope you are making a difference.”
The fact that someone noticed and decided to help them continue their efforts was “a huge boost to our staff morale.”
Jessi Lambert, who manages the Vermilion branch, said “Txhis is a great opportunity to expand what we were trying to do.”
“We get to benefit by helping our youth, but our community will benefit, too,” she said.
The final plans for the food program are still be worked out, Vake said, noting they have been holding meetings with their staff and will be developing a monthly plan. They will be reporting their results back to the donor. The new food program will begin in May.
The Nett Lake branch averages 20-30 youth a weekday, and Vermilion averages 15-25. Vake said the program is looking for both afterschool and summer staff, and teenagers are encouraged to apply.
You can learn more about the Boys and Girls Club of Bois Forte on their Facebook page, which also posts updates on hours and special activities, or by calling 218-753-8934.
The clubs often host special activities. Last week the children had a Zoom class about medicinal plants with Shontel Michaud Isham, which included a hands-on time for making a healing herbal balm.