Today’s guest post comes from Juanita Gonzales of Boys & Girls Clubs of North Alabama. (And the second Alabama post in a row!) She is famous for going ALL OUT with Club celebrations, and let me just tell you, talking to her the best! Her joy is infectious! Read on to learn more about her recent Willy Wonka themed party and her best tips for parties on a budget.
First, tell me a bit about your Club and your members!
The Seminole Unit of Boys & Girls Clubs of North Alabama is located within public housing. 98% of our members live below the poverty level, and many of them are in single parent homes. We have over 130 youth attend each day.
Why is it so important that you celebrate holidays and host special events at the Club?
It is important because a lot of the members don’t get it at home, so if they don’t get it at the school or with us it falls through the cracks. I believe holidays and traditions are important. When you have something to look forward to and have fun with , you start to celebrate the important aspects of whatever the holiday or traditions means to you and you get a chance to pass that on in your own story.
You say that “the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is EXTRA!” How have you lived by this at the Club?
It’s the extra that makes the experience. I am all about going the extra mile or doing extra details because the members will remember how they felt when they see the extra time and care that’s put into it. They have this “Wow, this is all for me?” reaction when it’s more than they could’ve even imagined. It’s not just physical details, it can be extra love, positive attitude or high fives. Its being extra selfless.
Two to three times a year you host lock-ins for your members. What are some of the activities you’ve done and how do you run these events?
We do sleepovers that involve skating, trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s, movies and splash pads (mini water area for kids). They get dinner, breakfast or snack. We’ve even incorporated holidays and had a lock-in and Easter egg hunt for the Easter the next morning. Each overnight event costs $20 to help us with our budget.
Other themed events have included “No Place For Hate” events; The Glow Up which was all glow in the dark activities like dodge ball, tag and painting; Chinese New Year culture intro where we sampled Chinese food and fortune cookies, made lanterns, and held a culture question and answer; Don’t be an Angry Bird with temper control games that need patience, all things angry birds, face painting and snack.
For your last lock-in, you had a Willy Wonka theme! How did you make it EXTRA SPECIAL for your members?
We created a giant Wonka bar on the door as an invitation. When children paid for their slots we gave them a Hershey bar with a golden ticket with all the info on it. We had a staff dress up as an Oompa Loompa and come out while we were showing the movie. We took little nuggets from the movie and turned them into games. They got to create fizzy lifting drinks with an assortment of candies in test tubes, lick pre-made edible wall paper off the wall, eat strawberries and marshmallows that they dipped in the chocolate river fountain, find a golden egg located in the building, save soldiers that got shrunk in the tv, drink specially packaged chocolate river milk, have a bubble gum blowing contest with gum made from the factory itself, guess how many candies (themed from the movie) were in each jar and take pictures in front of the chocolate waterfall and get a goodie bag from Mr. Wonka himself.
You’ve done an amazing job of being creative with limited funds. What advice would you give to Club Directors for “balling on a budget”?
If you can create the look by hand go that route first. Although it may take more time it will be most cost effective in the end. Also, PINTEREST! There are a lot of great ideas from people who have kids and stay at home so they make a lot of things on a budget. And also the dollar store will become your best friend.
Juanita served in the Movement for 12 years, and has just retired! She is looking forward to continuing to help plan special events at the Club and using her new Cricket Air machine.