ANwSU leader taking charge of renovated city Boys and Girls Club

VERGENNES — A familiar face is greeting new and current members of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes this fall.
Vergennes resident and former city afterschool program director Jill Strube took over as executive director of the city youth club on Aug. 31. She became just the club’s third executive director since it was founded in the Vergennes National Guard Armory in the late 1990s.
From 2009 until this August, Strube served as the director of the federally funded Addison Northwest Supervisory Union afterschool program that under a couple different names (KEYS and FUSION) has served Vergennes-area elementary, middle and high school students.
Strube, 55, a Bronx, N.Y., native who moved to Vermont as an 8th-grader, said she knows many students well. She expects those connections to help in her new post and said they already have, when she ran into a few of them at a recent Vergennes Union High School open house.
“They said, ‘Why aren’t you at school?’ And I said ‘Well, now I’m at the club.’ ‘Oh, I used to go the club.’ ‘Well, why don’t you come back over? It’s really cool. We’ve changed a lot, and we’ve got all this big stuff going on now,’” Strube said. “And in the next few days five or six kids have stopped by who used to come all the time. And they’ve come back.”
Those relationships, as well as her existing ties with afterschool program providers and her grant-writing skills, made Strube an attractive candidate for the Boys & Girls Club, said club board president Jeff Fritz in an email.
“The board was excited about her connections in the community as well as with students,” Fritz wrote. “As an educator, Jill successfully wrote the initial grant for the ANwSU’s after school program and will bring those skills to our club as we continue to seek funding to provide the kind of programs and services our members need and want.”
Strube replaces Mike Reiderer, who led the club since 2000, after replacing club founder Sam Allo. Most recently, Reiderer helped plan and obtain funding for the recently completed interior renovation of the club’s School Street headquarters.
“The entire board of directors thanks Mike Reiderer for 16 years of dedicated service to our club,” Fritz wrote. “During his time with the Boys & Girls Club a strong and passionate board developed, the club became a stable part of our community, and staff and volunteers mentored hundreds of young people. Mike also initiated our long-awaited renovation.”
Reiderer could not be reached for comment about his departure or plans. Asked for follow-up comment on why Reiderer left the club, Fritz replied, “Mike’s departure presented opportunities for growth for everyone. We sincerely thank him for his dedication to our club.”
Strube’s journey to the club, and even to the education profession, took twists and turns. Her family settled in Burlington when they came to Vermont, and she graduated from Burlington High School and attended the University of Vermont as a geography major.
She then intended to get a graduate degree in that discipline, but got sidetracked by a course in recreation management that included a stint teaching physical education to Winooski kindergarteners. 
“I fell in love. So I went back to UVM and said I like geography and it’s really fun and all, but I want to be a PE teacher,” she said.
Strube obtained a teaching certificate from UVM, and then a job in Lincoln, halftime in PE and halftime as the school librarian.
“Basically, I got to read to the kids in my sweatpants. It was great,” she said.
During a three-year stay in Lincoln, Strube obtained her elementary teaching certification from St. Michael’s College and then an elementary school job in Fletcher. From 1989 to 1998, she commuted from Panton to Fletcher in Franklin County, renting a room during the week in Fletcher.
Then came another bend in the road: “In 1998 I decided I was going to change my life completely,” she said.
Strube earned a Champlain College degree in respiratory therapy and was hired by Fletcher Allen Health Care. But after working long shifts on concrete floors, she developed severe foot problems, forcing her to again change direction.
In 2000, she successfully applied to be the director of Burlington’s Champlain Schools After School Program. After eight years there she was recruited by then ANwSU curriculum coordinator Carol Spencer to write a grant for a new ANwSU afterschool program, with, Strube said, the understanding that if the application was successful she could run the program in what by then was her hometown.
In April 2008, the grant was awarded, and she worked for ANwSU until the Boys & Girls Club board recruited her in late August.
Again, Strube was ready for a change.
“I’d been doing it for 16 years between Champlain and being the director here. I was looking for a challenge,” Strube said.
And a challenge it has been. She can no longer call the trusty VUHS maintenance or IT departments when something goes wrong with the clubhouse, its appliances or computers.
“I’ve never been in charge of my own building,” she said. “It’s things I’ve never tackled before, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.”
Then there’s the big picture: making sure club members are having a good experience, and trying to increase their numbers.
“(There are) getting the kids to come, supervising the kids adequately, making sure everyone’s happy, making sure everyone’s safe, making sure they have things to do every day. So there are big things, and day-to-day challenges,” Strube said.
And unlike at ANwSU, the U.S. Department of Education isn’t supplying half-million dollar grants. But that’s another job Strube doesn’t mind.
“I actually love the challenge of writing grants,” she said.
Another thing Strube is enjoying is making the connections to increase programming, something she said will be vital to boost membership: About 75 youths from grades 5 through 12 are regular attenders, typically about 15 to 18 most afternoons.
Part of that job means casting a wide net: Last week Strube met with Northlands Job Corps Director George Sabol, next week she sits down with the Vergennes Rotary Club, and she is talking with Middlebury College about literacy and mentoring efforts. 
“I really like that aspect of reaching out into the community,” she said.
The renovations will also help, not only because the space is more attractive and welcoming, Strube said, but also because the club has a full kitchen to offer real — and free — meals for the first time to its members, and that kitchen also means more extensive cooking programs.
“Not only do the kids love to do it, but it’s a life skill. That’s the Boys & Girls Club mission, to teach the kids life skills,” Strube said.
The club now offers Chromebook computers for the first time, and is converting its email system to mirror that of city schools to make it easier for members to do homework there.
Strube would also like to introduce even more programs, including community service projects, all with an eye to better serve members and attract more.
“The way to attract the kids is first of all to show them what a great new space we have. The other thing is look at all the great things you’re going to be able to do and try and really bring up the amount of programming,” she said. “I think it’s really important to engage the kids in meaningful activities.”
Strube also has a personal goal. 
“I try to spend at least an hour, if not more, a day with the kids,” she said. “Because that’s the best part of my day.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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