Using funds from the state's Department of Education, the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County has been able to help five times as many school-aged children in the Frazier Park area than ever before. That's something the club wants to celebrate.

A little over six years ago, the mountain communities didn't even have a Boys and Girls Club, something former town council president Linda MacKay was uncomfortable with.

"I grew up in a rural community in Tulare County, and I'd seen a lot of kids fall through the cracks," MacKay said. "In the rural communities, there isn't a lot to do."

MacKay said she received a call from Bakersfield City Councilman David Couch, who was at the time a Boys and Girls Club board member.

MacKay said she was told the club was trying to expand into other parts of the county and was asked if the mountain communities would be interested in having one.

"I said 'absolutely,'" MacKay said.

The club was up and running by June 2006, offering after-school programs in facilities rented from local churches. But that's not where the program was going to stay.

"It was our original intent to get (the after-school programs) on campus," MacKay said. "It was more user-friendly, more comfortable for the parents because the kids didn't have to be bused."

"In the past in the Frazier Park area we would serve less than 40 kids, less than 20 at one point," said Maggie Cushine, resource development director for the club.

"I know for a while it was a struggle to provide services to the kids because transportation was an issue," said Cushine, who added the club applied for funds from the state DOE's After School Education and Safety program (ASES) to begin the campus-based program in Frazier Park. That strategy had been successful in school districts like Bakersfield City, Lamont, Arvin, Standard and Vineland. For Frazier Park, that money allowed 96 children to participate in club after-school programs during this past year, and approximately 40 are currently participating in the club's summer program.

"The kids get to go year-round," Cushine said.

During the school year, students received homework assistance and also participated in physical fitness and recreational activities that reinforced what they were learning in school.

"It's 'disguised learning,'" Cushine said. "We work with the school district to keep track of what they're learning in school and we coordinate with that."

"They're learning stuff but they're having fun doing it," Cushine said.

Even the summer program is school-focused.

"We try to mitigate that summer learning loss by having activities that give that disguised learning," Cushine said.

The growth of the entire club in the last decade has been remarkable, from one club in east Bakersfield to three clubhouses (two in Bakersfield and one in Lamont) and 48 campus-based programs, including the most recent one at Frazier Park Elementary.

According to the state Department of Education, the ASES program was created in 2002 with the voter-approved Proposition 49, which replaced the earlier Before and After School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnership program. ASES funds partnerships between schools and community resources to provide educational and enrichment programs to students. Boys and Girls Clubs offer programs in five core areas, including character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and sports, fitness and recreation.

Donors and clients for the Boys and Girls Club will celebrate (and donate to) the club's accomplishments at the annual Heart of the Mountain fundraiser dinner on July 14 at the Tejon Ranch Hacienda in Lebec.