A safe space. That's what the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley give to more than 43,000 kids each year. But along with keeping kids out of harm's way after school lets out, the Boys & Girls Clubs enrich children's lives though their programs. Kids get creative in arts classes, learn social interaction and fitness skills in sports programs, and prepare for the future with technology courses that ensure they won't buy stock in companies that only produce floppy discs.
But the Boys & Girls Clubs impact kids beyond afterschool care. In addition to the East Valley clubs having the first Arizona club to serve a Native American community, the clubs' Ladmo branch has Mona Dixon, who was named National Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 2010.
Her path of success, encouraged by the Boys & Girls Clubs, led her from a girl homeless and worried about her family's survival to a young woman with a full ride to college and named one of the Top 28 Most Influential Black Women in America by Essence magazine.
For the Banzai Physical Challenge, young warriors must face a dastardly foe: mud. Throughout a two-mile course, kids must brave the mess as they scale a hay mountain, take on a technically engineered ¼ pipe, rope swing, and mud crawl. Youngsters ages 7–17 can opt to tackle the muddy obstacle course on their own, with an adult, or with an altruistic pig that can carry them to the end.
After rinsing off at the cleanup area, participants can explore Banzai's other kid-friendly attractions, including tug-of-war, inflatable obstacle courses, and bounce houses. Warriors can unwind with chair massages, adorn their arms with glitter tattoos, groove to tunes spun by live DJs, or replenish themselves with food and drink. There's even a beer garden for the adults.
No matter what the weather, at Jump Jungle, it's always blue skies. Here, kids play in an indoor playground under cover of a sky-blue ceiling that protects them from the outdoors' stifling heat or pouring rains. Inside, they leap across the springy floors of bounce houses, weave thorough the inflatable obstacle course, and scoot down air-filled slides. Picnic benches provide good vantage points for parents, and an arcade gives eye-hand coordination a good workout. Families can also plan parties here to celebrate their child turning a year older or being able to eat in a restaurant sans booster seat.
A person steps onto the range and raises a pistol, aligning the sight not on a paper target, but on miniature pumpkins. To keep things fresh, the staff at Ted's Shooting Range likes giving both members and the general public a bit of novelty every now and then by furnishing range targets that range from bowling pins to balloons. Ted's NRA-certified instructors also train students during classes, such as their Basic Pistol and Home Defense courses.
Sprawling across 392 acres and home to thousands of unusual plant and animal species, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is far from a standard classroom. Here, people learn through exploration rather than through textbooks; they’re able to smell the plants they study and ask native squirrels for direct quotes about soil quality. Jaunts through the park cover a range of terrain. Butting up against the northern face of Picketpost Mountain, the park encompasses canyons, hills, and trails carefully landscaped to duplicate arid environments from around the globe. The cactus garden features plants both sinuous and spiny, creating a vast collection of shapes and textures nestled into the dusty red landscape. Queen Creek Canyon provides respite from the sun, its towering trees thriving in the cool shade. Visitors pick up tips on how to enhance their own yards in the demonstration garden of drought-tolerant plants, which are relatively easy to care for except for when they demand chocolate milk. Additional education can be found in classes and lectures held at the Smith Interpretive Center.