This innovative youth club in Winona Lake has been serving the community for nearly 100 years

For 94 years, the Baker Youth Club (BYC) has been a pillar in the Winona Lake Community of Warsaw.

It started as the Baker’s Boys Club, founded by New York banker Bramwell Baker, who challenged the city of Warsaw to match his donation of $1,000. Rachael Hoffert

The club was originally intended to provide a fun place for boys to hang out, read comic books, shoot pool, and play checkers.

Over the years, it has not only sustained those activities, but also evolved into a modern youth club that cultivates education, health, and social skills for boys and girls alike, serving families both before and after school with meals and programming—all for less than $100 a year per child. This low price is accomplished with the help of donations and grants.

Rachael Hoffert, Ph.D., a professor at Grace College’s School of Education, is going into her fifth year as the BYC Board President and Program Director, working with Director Tracy Furnivall.

“In 94 years, we’ve survived the Great Depression, the wars, the stock market crash in 2008, and we’re still here providing a program that helps close to 300 kids a day,” Furnivall says. “It speaks volumes about the great and giving community we live in.”

Input Fort Wayne sat down with Hoffert to learn more about BYC’s ongoing success and how they’re innovating in regional youth services and education.
 

Baker Youth Club has an exergame room.

IFW: How did you first get involved with BYC?

RH: I always knew BYC was a great place for kids to go after school. My husband works with BYC to help get transportation to there from Warsaw schools, so BYC’s Director Tracy Furnivall asked him if he would be interested in becoming a board member. My husband said, “I am already on a lot of boards, but I know Rachael would love to get involved in the community.” So, Tracy asked if I was interested, and I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a try. I love children; I want to see them excel. If I can serve in any way, I’m excited to jump on board.”

IFW: How have BYC’s programs evolved since you’ve been on the board?

RH: When I started, Tracy said we needed someone to help us with programming. We do a lot of basketball and physical activity, but we thought we could do more.

One night a couple of years ago, we set up stations for the kids. They made slime, read weather books, and made clouds out of cotton balls. We went into the gym and asked, “Who wants to come do these activities?” One hundred kids lined up to come. It was at that point I thought, “Okay, what can we do to expand our programming?”

Tracy was on board, too. After some research and brainstorming, we said, “What if we open a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) center, and get exercise equipment instead of pool tables?” Now, if a child wants to play Xbox, they have to ride the bike first.

I was passionate for an art room. I’m not an artist, but I know kids are, and I know it’s a very therapeutic after school activity.

At this point, we knew it was getting expensive, so Tracy took the lead on searching out grants. After a lot of work, we got $120,000 in grants to put in the STEM center, exergaming (exercise gaming), and the art room.

From there, BYC took off. Attendance increased, and we are up to 220 kids a day. The kids have a lot of choices here. We don’t make kids go to the STEM room or the art room. We offer choices because we want them to engage in fun after school.

Baker Youth Club offers volunteer opportunities for college students and adults in the Warsaw area.

IFW: BYC is clearly a popular after school program in Warsaw. Tell us about the benefits for families.

RH: It is very important to BYC for kids to be in a safe environment after school. They should feel welcomed and supported.

Parents are guaranteed their kids can participate in fun activities, get homework help, and a meal. We want to keep our costs very low, since we help families from a variety of socioeconomic situations. The cost is right under $100 for a child to be at BYC for an entire year, including a meal and all our services.

No one is ever turned away from BYC. There are payment plans, but if someone is unable to pay, there are scholarships. We want every child to have the opportunity to be in a safe and fun environment after school.

IFW: What have been some of your favorite experiences working with the kids at BYC?

RH: I love to be with the kids when I’m here.

I think some of my favorite experiences are when I walk in with my college students and the kids yell, “They’re here!” I love seeing their faces light up.

Recently, our college class has read books and done some STEM activities with the kids. The kids got messy and absolutely loved it.

Another highlight for me is the reading room. We used to have a lot of books on shelves, but we redecorated and brought in special baskets and furniture and made it an inviting place for students to read books. I love going into the reading room and listening to kids read.

I also love seeing the community come together and support BYC financially.

Baker Youth Club offers before and after school activities.

IFW: BYC has added some before school programs in addition to after school. Tell us about that development.

RH: The before school program really came out of a need in the community for longer hours. It is available two hours before school starts, and it offers transportation to local schools.

We have quieter activities available in the morning. The exergame room and the gym are open, and they have discovery tubs, which the students at Grace College helped design. When kids open these tubs, they find Lincoln Logs, LEGO® bricks, and other fun activities.  

IFW: BYC has satellite programs, too. Tell us about those.

RH: We have a couple of satellite programs in Syracuse with Wawasee Community Schools. We see middle school students in the afternoon, mostly for homework help.

There’s also a program housed in one of the schools there. They do gym activities and some discovery tubs will travel there.

IFW: Are you looking for more volunteers?

RH: We love volunteers. If anybody is interested, just give Tracy a call. He would love to show BYC to anyone willing to volunteer or help financially.

Learn more

For more about BYC, visit www.bakeryouthclub.com.

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