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Grand openings a long time coming at Spiritwood | Two low-income areas in Bellevue regain permanent homes with Boys and Girls Clubs
As Markeese Rieux looks around the new Boys and Girls Clubs of Bellevue facility at Spiritwood Manor, he can't hide the flood of emotions.
Rieux glances around at policy makers from the city of Bellevue and King County, along with administrators from the club and a bright smile creeps across his face, the same one that has greeted youngsters and families around Bellevue for the past five years he has been with the club. While all of those at the new building's grand opening know the impact it will have on the dozens of children and teens the club serves each day, few know better than Rieux how long the road has been to get there.
"When I first saw this place, I was overwhelmed," he said. "This is where I'm meant to be."
Spiritwood and Hidden Village each celebrated a grand opening ceremony last week to commemorate a pair of facilities that community members have been longing for since the old ones closed in 2011. The new facilities-one for club youth and one specifically for teens-are complete with study rooms, a kitchen, offices and even a SMART board for classroom instruction. If anyone can speak to the depth and scope of the changes, as well as the increased capacity it offers club staff to work with youngsters, it is Rieux.
After moving to the area from California, he began as a part-time staff member at the original Spiritwood Manor club, operating out of a converted two-bedroom apartment and serving some 75 youth per day, including teens. A foster child during his own youth, Rieux said he only met his biological father after moving to the Pacific Northwest and also has connected with some long-lost siblings after they located him through old family records. When he began with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Bellevue as a 21-year-old he was unsure what to expect of leading youths who were not much younger than himself and many of whom faced their own struggles in school and at home.
"It was a weird feeling, knowing I was being watched at every turn," he said. "The kids, for some reason we just connected and there was just this electric feeling."
Even in its first incarnation, Rieux said the mission of club staff and excitement from the youngsters and families never wavered at Spiritwood Manor, which is only one of several low-income housing areas the club serves around Bellevue.
Ryan Scott, the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Bellevue, said with Rieux leading the charge as club director and the excitement in the community for the return to Spiritwood Manor from its temporary homes at Lake Hills Elementary and Eastside Terrace, the possibilities for even more lives to be impacted is there.
"His energy, excitement and passion for working with kids is infectious," Scott said. "We try to grow our own and we're really excited to have him running the facility."
While the old Spiritwood Manor was cramped, dark and simply not suitable as a hub for area youth to congregate, the second incarnation is everything club staff and youth have been dreaming of.
Past the entrance is the main room of the club, where new tables and chairs can be moved in to place for snacks prepared in the adjacent kitchen, which comes complete with a pair of refrigerators and an oven. An art room comes complete with supplies for inspiring creativity and a computer lab with around a dozen state of the art machines ensures students can remain connected to technology even if they do not have a computer in the home. A study room with a SMART Board assists with homework help and offices offer Rieux and other club staff a space to manage administrative duties and meet with parents.
For the youngsters who come to the club after school and the parents who count on Rieux and other staff members to provide a daily, positive influence, the remodel has been a long time coming.
But for the newest club director for the BGCB, it is the realization of a mission half a decade in the making.
"The challenges, now I welcome them," Rieux said. "I know you prevail through hard work and it makes you a stronger person."
The Club hosted a Grand Opening ceremony for media, city and county officials and representatives from the Boys and Girls Clubs last week, but Rieux said the real celebration will take place during a party for club staff, youth and families. For more information on registration, club offerings and more, visit their website.
A study room with a SMART Board makes learning simple. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER
A computer lab ensures club youth can remain connected to technology even without a computer in the home. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER
The kitchen at Spiritwood. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER
Encouraging messaging and signage made by club members and staff hangs on the walls. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER