It’s a hot, late afternoon in the St. Henry parish center, and the air is alive with excitement. It’s the finale for the 10th annual St. Henry’s Clubhouse, and as parents and friends gather to take in the show, the kids of the summer clubhouse prepare for their big moment.
Soon enough the kids enter the gym, walking quickly to the stage and taking their places on the steps in front of it. Natalie Pugh, director of the clubhouse and the show’s emcee, welcomes the audience of friends and family: The closing show is underway.
The closing festivities capped off a 21-day safari for clubhouse participants, a month of friendship, learning and memories. At the start of June, walking onto the second floor of the parish center from the world outside was like stepping into a world of imagination. A safari wilderness world bloomed. Zoo animals and tree foliage festooned the walls. The hallway was magically transformed. The summer clubhouse had begun and for 22 days, fun and adventure was the rule.
For Pugh, director of the clubhouse and a kindergarten teacher at Fairfield Elementary School, Fort Wayne, it’s a month of fun and learning that she enjoys being a part of. She started as a teacher at the clubhouse in 2013, and now is wrapping up her first year as director of the program.
“I fell in love with the program so I decided to stay,” she said. “This is my first year as director and it’s going great.”
“We have a structured schedule, just like school,” Pugh noted. “Every day the kids go to art and gym and we have a music program to bring it all together. The kids love it.”
The clubhouse is run on a grant from the Foellinger Foundation and through Taylor University. Its success can be seen in the participants.
“They want to come back every year,” Pugh said. “The majority are returning kids, and we have new students who want to experience the clubhouse, too. They usually come back the next year as well.”
Running for a total of 22 days, the clubhouse provides a safe place for the children to be in a fun and learning environment. A lot of activities are packed into 22 days: For Pugh, that’s all a part of the mission of the clubhouse.
“The mission of the summer clubhouse is for the kids to have a positive summer experience,” Pugh said. “We have family nights, zoo day and other various field trips throughout the duration. We learn math, reading, relationship skills and life skills, and we put on a music program at the end for the parents, family members and community members to see.”
For the past nine years, the summer clubhouse has been anchored by a combination of south-side Fort Wayne community and St. Henry Parish, a point Pugh is happy to make.
“St. Henry’s is a wonderful parish. It’s a part of the community, and there are many who come and help. It’s good for the kids to see how the community and the church work together. The Foellinger Foundation asked St. Henry’s if (it) could use the facility to serve the community, so we’re very fortunate to be here.”
On the hot July afternoon, as the show wrapped up, everyone left the gym. It was quiet afterward, and the last of the 2019 summer clubhouse echoed into memories, memories instilled and forged in the minds of the children and adults who participated.
Paul Gerardot, property manager of the parish center, is mindful of the impact and legacy that the children leave at St. Henry.
“The month that children are here for the clubhouse is like a breath of life that comes into the building, filling it with love and joy with the smiles on their faces,” he said. “They’re so missed until they come again.”
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