Annual fundraiser highlights efforts of the Boys and Girls Club of Lewis County: ‘We are saying that we will be here for you’


While the morning frost had yet to thaw on Wednesday, state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, offered a wake-up call. As he spoke at the Boys & Girls Club of Lewis County’s Most Important Meal of the Year, Abbarno asked about half the room to stand up.

“I know it’s early in the morning,” Abbarno said. “Can you just humor me for a second?”

As half of the roughly 300 business, political and community leaders at Jester’s Auto Museum rose from their seats, Abbarno continued.

“This is the number of students who are entering the Chehalis School District who are not kindergarten-ready,” Abbarno said. “Look around. That’s half of this room. That’s half this room. Half of the students entering the school district, Centralia and Chehalis, are not kindergarten-ready and are falling further and further behind. That’s sad.”

The impact can compound, Abbarno said, with students falling “further and further and further,” behind as they advance through their education.

The visual continued. According to state data, roughly the same percentage of students in both Centralia and Chehalis qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“Because they are living in poverty,” Abbarno said. “And I bet that number’s low.”

An annual fundraiser, the Most Important Meal of the Year offered the Lewis County Boys and Girls Club a chance to show the difference that fundraising and volunteering can make in a child’s life.

“These students are falling further behind,” Abbarno said. “Not just because of before-school care, but after-school care, because they need a safe place to play, and learn, and grow. And that’s why the Lewis County Boys and Girls Club is so important for all of us to invest in.”

With help from the Boys and Girls Club, Abbarno said, Lewis County can continue to “change the narrative in our community, we can change the outcome of our students.”

The organization, he said, is essential to tackling long-term problems such as intergenerational poverty, while also working to attack issues that can serve as barriers to student success.

“We know that we live in a childcare desert. We know that we live in an early learning desert,” Abbarno said. “There are so many in our community who need, not just before-school care, they need after-school care.”

Abbarno highlighted the United Learning Center, a project that’s fully funded after an influx of nearly $6 million from the state and federal governments. It will be built in downtown Centralia.

“A quality early learning program, a quality childcare program, are all part of how we, we, the collective we, lift our community out of poverty and end intergenerational poverty,” Abbarno said.

Sarah Althauser, executive director of the Lewis County Boys and Girls Club, said the organization reaches “kids in our local communities, those that need us the most.”

“And we are speaking words of encouragement into their lives, we are walking alongside them when we are celebrating their victories, and we are helping them through some really tough seasons,” Althauser said.

The Boys and Girls Club, Althauser said, helps students provide positive life experiences as students prepare for their next phase of life.

“We’ve got the freedom and the power in Club to be there, and be alongside these kids, to walk through whatever they face, and just connect them with opportunities,” Althauser said. “And that is what we are doing, collectively, as a community. We are saying that we will be here for you.”

Althauser said the organization is partnering with Blue Zones of Lewis County for community gardens at their club sites in Chehalis and Centralia.

“Digging in the dirt, learning how to grow vegetables,” she said. “We’re really excited to be partnering with them.”

For more information on the Boys and Girls Club of Lewis County or to donate, visit