SHHS senior gets statewide B&G Club honor

Scott Swanson

Abby Jernejcic, of Sweet Home, knows her way around at the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Santiam.

She started with the club six years ago as a client, and then joined the staff a year and a half ago.

According to club officials, she has really made herself very useful.

When children arrive at the Sweet Home branch, they get a box of supplies for the day, courtesy of Jernejcic, Executive Director Kris Latimer said.

“She does everything,” Latimer said.

Jernejcic’s efforts led to her applying for and winning the club’s Youth of the Year honor, then being chosen as the state winner. She was honored at a dinner reception hosted at Fun Forest by club board member Wendi Melcher.

Latimer said the last state winner from what is now the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Santiam was long before she arrived in 2012 as executive director.

Program Operations Director Tyler Reece said Jernejcic’s contributions have helped the Boys & Girls Club successfully serve more than 279 children, ages pre-K to eighth grade, who have participated in its early learning and full programs during the past year, particularly while schools were closed to in-classroom instruction due to the pandemic.

“We opened up in April 2020 to run full-day child care,” Reece said. “That is what it was. It was a full-day chunk. Abby was our direct service staff.”

In the year following the school shut-downs due to COVID, the club was open 11 hours a day, five days a week for 234 days – 23,474 hours of programs, according to Latimer.

It was able to maintain a staff of 63 people, including 10 full-time employees, who served 42,378 free meals and snacks and, during the school year, facilitated more than 583 hours of online school per school-age child. More than 23,200 individual art projects were completed.

Reece said club officials initially expected things to revert to normal in September, but “September came and it didn’t. So we ended up starting a program that supported distance learning. We had about 45 kiddos in our building, navigating distance learning. They’re all bringing their Chromebooks.”

Staff members became “Chrome experts, school experts. Basically, we were having young professional staff, who are used to running enrichment activities, now playing the parent and teacher role as much as possible with that. So there was just a lot of readjustments on how we’ve run programs.”

Since Jernejcic was also doing remote students, she and other high-schoolers were able to adjust their schedules to work at the club.

“That was Abby’s role,” Reece said. “She was super-supporting that distance learning in the morning, and then we would go into enrichment after that.”

Latimer said the Youth of the Year award is a character-based scholarship, given to a teen who shows “leadership qualities, integrity, all the qualities we want to see in a Boys & Girls Club member – good citizenship, care for the community, volunteerism, hard work, that sort of thing.” The award includes more than $3,000 in college scholarship money and the chance to move on to the Northwest region competition.

“Tyler brought it up to me as, like, a scholarship opportunity and an opportunity to represent the club. I really wanted to go to college and so a scholarship was super helpful to me. I thought it would be a good experience to get some interview experience, when the judges interview you, and writing experience writing the essays.”

Jernejcic said she had applied for the award as a junior, one of five local contestants last year, and Reece suggested she give it another shot this year. She said she can use the money for college.

Jernejcic is graduating from Sweet Home High School this year and is heading to Kent State University in Ohio, the state from which she moved to Oregon six years ago. She plans to major in early childhood education.

She loves children, she said, which prompted her to apply for the job, which she works about 30 hours a week.

“Checking kids off the bus is absolutely my favorite thing to do,” she said. “I love them getting off the bus and running toward me, saying ‘Hi!'”