Getting kids off the streets can be a daunting problem.
But on a recent Sunday afternoon, about 25 children packed into a room at the Aberdeen Moose Chapter 1209 to play bingo.
"We wanted to do something that might interest kids of all ages," said Rose Dalton, the senior regent of the Women of the Moose, as the games started. "Eventually, we hope to have this room filled with kids."
The afternoon bingo marked the launch of the Aberdeen Moose KIDZ Club last month at the Aberdeen Moose Lodge Chapter 1209. The club is one of several efforts to accommodate the growing number of children moving into the county.
"We started a formal club because there is a need for such a program in the town of Aberdeen," said Dalton, 54, who lives in Forest Hill. "We thought that if we gave the club an actual name, it would give kids something to belong to."
To participate, the children purchase a pad of 18 games for $1, which also covers the cost of refreshments. During each two-hour session, they win prizes as they play, and at the end, every child who did not win gets to select a prize. Prizes include stuffed animals, pencil boxes, badminton sets, diaries and cash grand prizes.
The club's bingo sessions will be held on Sundays. Other activities include Thursday night games in which kids of all ages can play board games, kids' karaoke nights, and preteen and teen dances.
Once the KIDZ Club is established, Dalton plans to offer children opportunities to participate in community service projects, such as playing bingo with the seniors at local senior centers and the Adopt-A-Road program.
"I want to get kids actively involved in their community," Dalton said. "It will help them take pride in where they live."
Although the KIDZ Club is new to the Moose Lodge, Dalton has been holding children's programs there since her son, Christopher Sosebee, died of kidney disease three years ago.
"I wanted to do something to help kids in memory of my son," she said.
They hold Halloween, Christmas and Easter parties. The Halloween party this year will be held Oct. 31 and include a preteen dance. The Christmas party will include breakfast with Santa, and each child will receive a gift, she said.
Dalton and the women of the Moose Club have collected prizes and donations for weeks to start the bingo program, and it hasn't been easy, she said.
"Many of the businesses tell us no," she said. "We haven't established ourselves in the community yet. But we hope to build our program and get more support."
At the first bingo event, 6-year-old Maleah Dennison won the first round. She selected a fluorescent pink scribble slate for her prize.
"This is fun," said Maleah, of Essex. "I won!"
Kim Baczeski and her 10-year-old daughter, Carley Simpson, had a similar view of the event. The activity gave Carley something to do out of the house. and she loved it, Baczeski said.
Baczeski, 31, of Aberdeen said she likes having a safe, inexpensive place for her daughter to go. Typically, she has to take her children to Bel Air for activities, she said.
Sherry Billings said her children went to the Boys and Girls Club for years, but they were ready for a change.
Billings, who recently joined the Moose Lodge, said she was thrilled to hear about the KIDZ Club, and she signed on to help. She had tried for years to get events for young children in Aberdeen, she said.
But the schools told her that she would need insurance to put on a dance, and other organizations told her that she would need too much security because it was a safety risk, she said.
"I worked with the city of Aberdeen on this, but there were just too many negative responses from businesses and people in general about the kids," Billings said. "People felt that the kids in Aberdeen cause too much trouble to allow them to have events. In my opinion, how can we expect great things from the kids if everyone is so negative about them?"
Officials with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County have also noticed a demand for more programs as the county's population continues to grow. More than 1,000 county children use their programs, said Darlene Lilly, the program's assistant executive director.
To help meet the demand, the Aberdeen club recently began running its program at the Harford Commons neighborhood, and it plans to add two more areas in Aberdeen in the near future, Lilly said.
"We see a great need, and demand for children's programs," Lilly said. "There aren't enough in this area. We are always happy to see new programs starting."
Future events offered by the KIDZ Club include a teen dance on Oct. 18 that will include music by DJ Big Moon and a dance for preteens Oct. 31.