It’s funny when people don’t believe Sue Goetz, director of Millvale’s Northern Area Boys and Girls Club says, “I always say that if I won money, my money would go into this.” She’s not kidding when she says, “I would do whatever it took. We have to make this work. It’s good for the community.”
Goetz, a small and scrappy woman, couldn’t have been more serious about those words when Hurricane Ivan blew out her Club and most everything in it in 2004. She kept her car crammed with hockey, dance, and basketball equipment. This is how Goetz wound up as goalie during hockey practice and wherever else the kids needed her as she tried to both run the Club fulltime in other buildings around town and rebuild what she used to have.
“It was a good time, a little crazy,” she says. “I was a little sore every night, but it was okay. We couldn’t afford to let those kids go.” She believed this so much that she and her community had the Club back open on the January 3rd after the September storm.
These days, Goetz’s Club leaks every now and then, and she’s playing fewer sports than she used to, but she’s tough as ever.
Every weekday, the Northern Area Boys and Girls Club opens its doors at 2:30 and, by quarter after three, Goetz has anywhere between 40 and 60 kids tucked into the buildings many echoing rooms. They’re fed food that’s mostly made on-site—grilled cheese, spaghetti, and the like—and settled into whatever homework they might have, usually in one of the two computer rooms.
The Club runs Afterschool Excellence (ASE), which brings in Shaler teachers and tutors to work with the kids; the Club maintains contact with the schools to monitor grades and target academic needs. The group also participates in Power Hour. After homework, the kids are allowed to play learning-based computer and board games or grab a favorite novel off the packed shelves. For everything they do, they accumulate points, which will eventually grant them access to a towering closet of prizes.
“They like to think they’ve earned something,” says Goetz. She adds that, when the kids see their friends pick something cool (games, toys, activity sets) from the closet, they say, “Well, next time I’m going to read more,” not realizing that learning more and better is the real point of ASE and Power Hour.
Time at the Club isn’t just for learning. Kids as young as five through about twelve have a space carved out just for them with play kitchens, movies, video games, and athletic equipment. There are visits to the library, a digital video club, cooking classes, soccer teams, dances classes, boys’ nights out, girls’ nights out, full-day summer programming and just about anything else Goetz can get off the ground.
“I try to do creative things,” says Goetz. “I try to do something different. I know the kids don’t want to be here. They want to be with their friends.” When the kids become too old to be members, but too young to be out on their own after school, Goetz has them in as volunteers.
“It’s a good Club,” she says. Her chapter has been in Millvale since 1972; Goetz since 1993. At the time, St. Anthony’s was merging with two other schools and shuttering its dance program, where her two daughters took lessons. “I went down to the Club and begged,” Goetz recalls. She offered to run the program if they would just give her the room to do so. They did. From there she jumped from part-time employee to program coordinator to full-time employee to director. To bring things full circle, one of Goetz’s daughters runs the dance/tumble/cheer program now. Her son runs some of the other fitness programs.
Goetz lives at the top of the hill from the Club, born and raised in Millvale, as were her parents, her ex-husband, and his parents, too. “We’re just Millvale people,” says Goetz. “At one time, I knew everyone who walked in the door [of the Club]. I knew their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.”
Most of the kids at the Club now are from Shaler—they take the bus over after school. Even though Goetz wishes more kids from Millvale would join, she knows that Shaler parents help out the town by stopping at the gas station or buying a cup of coffee before picking up their kids. Goetz makes the wellness and growth of Millvale a priority. “I never go outside of the town for anything,” she says: catering, bowling, ice cream, movies, the community garden. “We always patronize the businesses in Millvale.”
She wants to include the community in other ways, too. Since her building is empty until the kids arrive in the afternoon, she’d love to bring in seniors or stay-at-home parents with their smaller children during the earlier hours of the day. She’d turn the whole place into a learning center if she could: GED classes, SAT prep, computer classes, parenting lessons—a place open to everyone with any need.
“Funding is hard,” she says. “With the Boys and Girls Clubs, there are standards, and you have to follow those guidelines.”
As she figures out next steps, Goetz keeps on doing what she’s doing. “We just hope for the best every day.”