VENTURA : Boys & Girls Club a Hot Summer Draw

Tuesday was a typical morning at the east Ventura Boys & Girls Club for 11-year-old Natalie Bryce.

Her mother dropped her off at the clubhouse at 8 a.m. and within the next four hours, Natalie had played a couple of matches of Foosball, scored four points in a three-on-three basketball game and checked out the arts and crafts project for the day.

By 1 p.m., her peanut butter sandwich eaten, Natalie and four other girls were engaged in the day's next activity: talking about boys.

"He likes me and I don't like him," 10-year-old Elizabeth Meeks told Natalie, gesturing to a boy playing bumper pool across the noisy game room. "He's gross." Natalie and the other girls giggled.

The chance to choose from a slew of activities--or simply to gossip--has made the Johnson Drive facility a favored summertime destination for many children.

Summer programs are offered at seven other Boys & Girls clubs throughout Ventura County. But the east Ventura club is one of the most popular because the building is modern and the equipment is new, said Jane Goldschmidt, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura.

Three weeks into the summer session, the club has been drawing nearly 200 youths a day between the ages of 7 to 18, some from as far as Camarillo and Santa Paula.

Many are like Natalie and her younger brother, Anthony, who stay at the center from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day while their parents work.

"The time goes by so fast, because I have my friends and there are a lot of things to do," said Natalie, who lives in Ventura.

Adam Farer, 12, also gets dropped off at the center each day. He carries a lime green three-ring binder filled with Marvel Comic Book cards, each carefully preserved in a plastic sleeve.

He trades cards with his buddies, plays sports and watches movie videos. A day-care veteran, Adam said he likes the Boys & Girls Club because the staff is relaxed.

"They let you do what you want to do," he said. "It's not like at the YMCA, where they watch you every second and you don't feel free."

Kim Vickers, 33, drops son Michael, 9, and daughter Michelle, 8, off at the center each morning and picks them up at 1:30 p.m. when she gets off her job at Smith's grocery store.

Vickers said she appreciates the club's modest cost. Children who attend between 7:30 a.m and 2 p.m. during the summer are charged $25 a week. After 2 p.m., club members pay only a $12 yearly membership fee.

"Being a single mom, that's great," Vickers said. "Day care would cost me more than $100."

Memberships and fees for special events make up only 25% of the club's $726,615 budget, Goldschmidt said. The remainder comes from United Way funding and donations, she said.

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