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Ryan McCauley, left, clubhouse director with the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis, plays a game of jenga with kids in the after-school program. Jenga, said club executive director Helen Higgins, is a structure-building exercise that helps teach the children about decision-making and taking risks.

The Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis is teaming up with the Old Mill Center on a $35,000 fundraising campaign that will enable the two groups to continue the mental health services that they offer as part of the club’s after-school program.

The club had been offering the service for the past two years with funds from a grant by Cambia Health Solutions of Portland. The grant expired last month, and the club and the Old Mill have embarked on a direct mail effort and a social media campaign to replace the funds.

In addition, Toyota/Subaru of Corvallis is making a donation to the campaign from every car they sell from July 28-31. Three-quarters of the funds from Toyota/Subaru will aid the mental health campaign, with the remainder bolstering the club’s scholarship fund.

Helen Higgins, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, and Kate Caldwell, development manager of the Old Mill, also appealed to the Benton County Board of Commissioners during its budget cycle for the $35,000, but the commissioners did not approve the request. Efforts to obtain additional grant funding were not successful, Higgins and Caldwell said in a joint email to the Gazette-Times.

Higgins and Caldwell said the $35,000 would allow them to continue the program through June 2018 while they seek long-term funding.

Higgins and Caldwell said the program enabled Old Mill to provide two mental health skills trainers for the club.

“The effect has been tremendous,” Higgins and Caldwell said in their statement, “with measureable improvements, including a 28 percent reduction in written warnings and a 75 percent decrease in expulsions from the club’s after-school program.”

The mental health service, Higgins and Caldwell said, “increased the ability of BGCC staff to learn how to appropriately manage difficult behaviors, providing real-time support to youth who were struggling emotionally (and) early identification of mental health needs.

“This program gives us the opportunity to take our services directly to the kids in the community … and the community should want to see it continue. If we can change the trajectory of a kids’ life at an early age, we are one person closer to having a healthy sustainable community for all of us.”

The Boys and Girls Club has begun work on a 20,000-square-foot $6 million expansion of its Corvallis clubhouse, with the new space planned for its teen program. The Center for Youth Excellence, when completed next year, will allow the club to double — from 150 to 300 — the number of teens that it can serve.

When the new teen center opens, Caldwell and Higgins hope to add mental health counselors “to increase the depth of service available to youths and their families, and assist families with a warm hand-off to additional mental health services such as psychiatry as needed.”

In addition to their appeal to Benton County, Caldwell and Higgins and three other area social service providers spoke in a joint appearance July 20 at a Corvallis City Council work session. The group, which included representatives from Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Jackson Street Youth Shelter and Community Outreach, urged city officials to find ways to increase funding to local social service groups.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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