Family-oriented club properties are building robust youth programs that go well beyond just keeping kids entertained.
Substantial youth programs are a relatively new concept for many clubs, especially those with historically older memberships. But with more families now on club properties, parents and grandparents are looking for programming that not only keeps kids entertained, but also offers lessons in creativity, wellness and community service.
For the past five years, Westmoreland Club in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has offered its Buffalo Club program, aimed at providing programming for youth members. But in the past year, the club decided to develop and expand its family branding to encompass additional events, and to provide structured childcare.
First, to establish a mascot for the program, the club created a cartoon version of the enormous buffalo head mounted at the front entrance of the club that draws the attention of nearly every kid who passes by it.
“Parents lift their kids up so they can see it and touch it—they have this fascination with it,” says Robert Williams, CCM, CEC, General Manager/COO.
With the mascot, named “Westy,” established, the club began to offer Buffalo Club childcare and programming every Friday and sometimes on Saturday nights as well, to coincide with club events.
Typically, childcare attendees are between ages one and nine, with different areas designated for toddlers and older kids. Kids receive their own drink cups with brightly colored caps featuring Westy and their name. A recent project involved coloring and learning about all six components of the club’s crest.
“It was a way to give them a taste of club culture on a level they could relate to,” Williams says.
To take the childcare component a step further, Westmoreland Club partnered with a local college’s early-childhood learning program. Between three and six college students come to the club to facilitate organized, structured games, crafts, and activities that are actually a learning opportunity.
“This program is not just setting up games to keep kids busy, but [to provide] a hands-on, cooperative learning environment,” Williams says. “It has been much more successful than just offering babysitting services.”
In the evenings, parents pay for up to four hours of childcare, which includes kids’ dinners. Currently, the staff transforms private rooms on the property to house Buffalo Club activities as needed. But the third phase of a renovation that will likely take place in the next year to 18 months will create a designated space for the club, Williams says.
The Buffalo Club also offers opportunities for families to spend time together. For New Year’s Eve, clocks are turned ahead three hours and kids have a party that concludes with a “midnight” countdown at 9 p.m., complete with confetti and a balloon drop. In February, the club transformed the first floor of its clubhouse into a carnival, featuring a life-sized Angry Birds game, face painting, moon bounce, and more (see photos, below). In the summer, the club’s 6,000-sq. ft. courtyard plays host to a similar event.
“It’s not a typical thing you see at a 144-year-old city club,” Williams notes.
The Buffalo Club’s popularity spiked in the past year with the establishment of a consistent schedule that members can rely on. “We learned going into it that some members just aren’t going to plan ahead and want to be able to call last minute and drop in, so we have to be prepared for that,” Williams says. “So we decided to make the center available on a regular basis, and that’s what members wanted—to decide that day if they want to go to the club.”
To market its youth program, Westmoreland Club sends texts, e-blasts and push notifications to all members—and not just those with young kids, to make sure grandparents also stay informed. But even members without kids see the program’s benefit.
“I have had members tell me that the Buffalo Club is one of the main reasons they joined the club, because we have this family component and offer the ability to use the childcare,” says Williams. “Even members who don’t use it are telling me they realize that having young families as part of the club is really important.”
As paint-and-sip concepts continue to gain popularity with adults, Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, Tenn., jumped on the trend last fall and fashioned it for a smaller audience.
“The club usually does something crafty with kids in mid-November, so I wanted to do something geared toward what kids would want to do, instead of what parents would want,” says Hayden Kershaw, the club’s Catering and Youth/Family Events Coordinator.
Borrowing tarps used by an older group of members for a painting activity, the club set up tables in the fitness center and bought easels, acrylic paint, brush packs, canvases, and smocks decorated with name tags. It also had hair dryers available, for quickly drying paint layers.
Capped at 20 kids, the event quickly sold out. It started at 2 p.m. on Sunday and wrapped up at 4 p.m. “Parents said the timing was great—after church and lunch, so they were fed and focused,” Kershaw says. “We did break it up so they painted first, and then offered milk and cookies at the end, because they’re messy and trying to regroup would be challenging.”
The class was taught by the club controller’s wife, who used to teach painting classes professionally, and other staff members monitored and helped kids as needed. Each canvas already had a drawing of a penguin on it, so kids simply had to paint within the lines.
Kershaw expected the event to skew a bit older than it did—most attendees were from 5 to 7, with a couple of four-year-olds. Kids kept their paintings and the smocks, and the club kept the easels and paintbrushes for future use.
The event was so successful, Kershaw plans to offer it again this year—but with at least one adjustment.
“Some kids showed up in nicer clothes, so I think maybe their parents were expecting water color,” she says. “Acrylic is easier to work with, but it is permanent. Next time, I’ll let them know not to send kids in anything they don’t want to destroy.”
Expanding the Reach
Beyond ensuring that kids are entertained and mentally engaged, youth programs can also cultivate young members’ relationship with their community through philanthropic efforts.
“We kind of start to lose the attention of our young members when they turn 13,” notes Westmoreland Club’s Williams. “They don’t come to family stuff as much.”
To engage this segment, the Young Leaders component of Westmoreland’s Buffalo Club invites older kids throughout the year to work together on community-outreach projects. Just before Thanksgiving, junior members meet at the club for breakfast, then head to the local food bank to collect and distribute items to those who need help around the holidays (as a bonus, many of the kids earn service points for school). Afterward, the group returns to the club for teambuilding exercises.
The group also meets in the spring, to clean up a nearby camp that’s run by the YMCA.
“It’s an interesting and fun project to watch develop,” Williams says. “They see a side of life they don’t get to see otherwise and develop an appreciation for service projects, while also connecting with one another.”
Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., reaches juniors ages 9 to 12 through fun variations on yoga, with once-weekly Funky Flow Yoga and Aerial Yoga classes.
“We wanted to offer something new and exciting,” says Group Exercise Manager Kim Pace. “We were already offering an adult aerial yoga class, so we knew the kids would benefit from learning about proper alignment and to understand their bodies better.”
Set up in a multipurpose room, the aerial class combines traditional yoga poses with pilates and dance with the use of a hammock, or “sling,” that is made of a polyester blend. The slings are suspended from the ceiling, using rigs that consist of chains, a webbing strap, and carabiner hooks. The slings can hold up to 300 kg.
Pace describes Funky Flow Yoga as similar to pilates mat and reformer classes, with a flow of yoga similar to Vinyasa but with fun, upbeat music, which makes it more appealing to juniors. The instructor changes the music playlist once a month, to maintain variety and interest.
Both classes have a regular group of juniors in attendance who also show up for special events that incorporate traditional Vinyasa yoga, meditation, tai chi, and Funky Flow.
“One of the great things about what the staff has done here with these unique individual classes is they’re offering something that’s in everyone’s backyard,” says Membership Director Linda Sakkal. “Instead of members having to join little boutique gyms like Pure Barre or OrangeTheory that are so popular these days, we can offer these classes that add to the dynamics of the membership here.
“And getting teenagers to do anything is incredible, which is a testament to the program,” Sakkal adds.