The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver are known for opening clubs in neighborhoods where they are most needed, and the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club in the city's Montbello neighborhood is no exception.
Many of the kids there have parents who are in jail. Some live with foster families and deal with abusive situations; several are homeless, living in shelters or their parent's car.
"We just had a baby shower in the park for one of our girls, a former member," said Rich Barrows, longtime director of the club. "She had been homeless 18 times before she graduated high school and was our youth of the year. Now she has two degrees."
His club offers hope and a safe space for youth ages 6-18. It provides meals, activities, youth development training and mentoring, sports clubs and more, all for a $2/year membership fee.
And now, thanks to a $50,000 grant from U.S. Bank, the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club members have a fancy new sport court to play on. The court provides the kids the chance to play full-court basketball and several other sports. The grant was part of U.S. Bank's Community Possible Month of Play initiative, featuring $6.6 million in grants to nonprofits nationally, including 17 in the Denver metro area.
"We believe in the power of play," said Hassan Salem, U.S. Bank Colorado market president (pictured below). "Play brings joy, stimulates creativity and innovation, helps with problem solving and builds relationships."
Salem praised the bank's 56-year relationship with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and its long-time partnership with the Broncos at a ribbon-cutting and activity day event at the club July 25. Many club staff members, bank volunteers, several Broncos players and cheerleaders, and a lot of happy young club members attended the special event.
"The new court provides an old-school opportunity for kids to stay healthy and happy," Barrows said. "It gets them off the couches, the computers, their phones, and outside being active and healthy."
For member Doresca "DeeDee" Wilkerson (pictured below), 15, it means she will be able to practice her point guard and "down low center" skills on the basketball court. DeeDee lives in the neighborhood and has been coming to the club and playing several sports for nearly 10 years.
She laughed when asked if she played flag football. "We play tackle football," she said, noting she played both wide receiver and linebacker. DeeDee, who will be a junior at Montbello High School this year, is also a Play60 spokesperson for the NFL.
She has twice participated in the national Boys & Girls Club Keystone Conference, which includes sessions on inclusion, healthy lifestyles and community service.
DeeDee would like to go to Ohio State to become a veterinarian, although cosmetology is also a passion of hers. The club is helping tutor her in some of her classes.
"I'm not a big fan of science – like physics and chemistry – but I know I need it to be a vet," she said.
Her friend, Kirsten Washington (pictured below with DeeDee), 15, has been coming to the club since she was 8. Her family moved to Denver to be with her aunt a couple of years after they lost their home in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. "We had to stay in the attic for two days until helicopters took us to the Superdome," she said.
Kirsten has played on the club's football, basketball, outdoor soccer and volleyball teams. She thinks the new court is "incredible," and will be "better than falling on cement."
She credits the club with helping her do a lot of things she probably wouldn’t have done on her own.
"Before I was just a follower," Kirsten said. "It helped me make myself into something I wasn't before. I could be my own person here."
Kirsten plans to go to Dillard University in New Orleans to get a degree in criminal justice. She either wants to be part of a SWAT team or work in the homicide unit.
For one former member, the club changed the trajectory of his life. Marine Corps Cpl. Hector Bojorquez was on leave in Denver when the new court was unveiled, and director Barrows asked him to attend the special ribbon-cutting event. In fact, Bojorquez got to shoot the first basket on the new court. (One shot – he made it.)
"I started coming to the club when I was 10 or 11, in 2007," he said. "I grew up in the apartments across the street, with a single mom who was always working. The club gave me the opportunity to have a second family."
Bojorquez joined the U.S. Marines Corps in 2013, and has served in Syria, Kuwait and Sri Lanka. "It was a big eye-opener, to see different cultures and life there. Syria was tough, but it's a great cause – helping civilians."
He adores Rich, and says of the club: "If it wasn't for the help and mentorship of the coaches and staff here, I don't think I'd be the person I am today."