They spent the week learning about space and rockets -- and it paid off with a bang.
Or, really, a blast.
Kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties' Music & Arts Center fashioned two-liter plastic bottles into sleek space craft, complete with cardboard wings held down by duct tape, and then launched them with help from water, a bicycle pump and simple physics.
Jadehn Johnson's handmade rocket "went high and then flew that direction," the 13-year-old said last week, pointing toward a fence at Keewaydin Park in Kennewick, a few minutes after blast off.
Jadehn has spent the summer participating in activities at the Music & Arts Center, from negotiating a "laser" obstacle course -- the lasers were actually strings -- during a week with a spy theme, to creating "messy art." That activity, said Malaya Marvin, 11, "is kind of self-explanatory."
Malaya, Jadehn and other club kids spoke enthusiastically about the time they've had at the Music & Arts Center. That's a specialty of the club -- providing learning and enrichment opportunities in a way that, to kids, just seems like fun.
The local club, which has 11 locations throughout Benton and Franklin counties, is participating in a national campaign aimed at raising awareness about the risks youths can face when they have a lot of unsupervised, unstructured time out of school, and about the ways the nonprofit youth organization helps. The hope is to mobilize more support, from volunteers to financial donations.
Across the U.S., one in four kids leave school without a place to go, and in the summer three out of four don't have access to summer learning programs, according to information from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Great Futures campaign. That can leave them vulnerable to risks from learning loss to making poor choices.
At club locations, the focus is on academic success and enrichment, promoting a healthy and active lifestyle and helping shape youth into good citizens, said Brian Ace, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties.
The local club has more than 2,000 young members, with more than 500 youths spread across the 11 locations on a given day, Ace said.
In sync with the Great Futures campaign and club priorities nationwide, the local club has some goals on the immediate horizon -- to attract more teens and serve more at-risk youths.
The majority of Benton and Franklin county club members are in elementary school, with teens making up about 20 percent of the total club population. The club is using money from the United Way of Benton & Franklin Counties to support creation of a dedicated teen center at the main branch in Pasco and hiring of a teen coordinator for the site.
Leaders also have a vision for a new club location on city-owned land in east Kennewick. "At this point, we're really doing a lot of research and work with community groups to identify the best way forward to fund that," Ace said.
He said the club is focusing its energy on "being that additional support for kids, additional support for families, knowing that it takes many points of influence to change a child's life."
At the rocket launch, Jadehn went over several of his favorite club activities from the summer.
The laser course was at the top of his list.
And the rocket launch was cool too.
He said he likes the Music & Art Center because "I have a place to go instead of being at home all day." Without it, he might spend the day surfing the web or watching TV, and "that's way too boring."
To learn about getting involved with the local club or donating, call the main branch at 509-543-9980. The club is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BGCBFC. Great Futures campaign: www.greatfutures.org.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald