Greeted by a line of smiling kids who politely introduced themselves, shook their hands and guided them to a conference room, area politicians and officials learned Thursday about the cooperative efforts of local out-of-school youth programs.
Held at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Yellowstone County’s Bair Family Clubhouse, at 505 Orchard Lane, the Billings Out Of School Time (BOOST) forum brought together about two-dozen officials — elected officials, people running for office and law enforcement — from Yellowstone County to discuss the impact youth organizations can have on the community.
“The whole gist of this is to raise awareness for these folks of what we’re doing,” said Brian Dennis, the club’s chief professional officer.
BOOST is a collective of about a dozen local groups that cater to after-school youth programs and representatives for most of them spoke to the crowd gathered on Thursday. Much of the conversation centered on the positive influence the organizations feel they can have on kids when their parents aren’t around.
“We come to work every day to help young people become better people,” said Becky Webber, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County.
The BOOST partners use 100 full-time employees and 1,000 volunteers to serve about 9,000 kids from 33 schools in the area, something that wasn’t lost on many of the officials and candidates in attendance.
“That they’re all part of this coalition — if there are kids who need this type of structure, that’s there for them and that’s a good thing,” said former City Council member Chris “Shoots” Veis, who is running as a Democrat for House District 53. “It’s important to hear about these programs.”
Local law enforcement officials also attended and told the group that such programs are successful at keeping kids out of trouble. Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said his officers benefit because the programs keep kids off the street during times when they could be unsupervised.
Ron Walters, probation supervisor with Youth Court Services, said the numbers show that when kids are involved, they’re less likely to end up seeing him.
“If the kids are in this program and participating we never see them,” he said. “And that’s a good thing.”
The BOOST forum was hosted by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County, Boys and Girls Clubs of Yellowstone County, Care Academy, Discovery Zone, Friendship House of Christian Service, Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming, Montana Audubon Conservation Education Center, Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search, United Way of Yellowstone County, Yellowstone County 4-H and the YMCA.