The Johnson Boys & Girls Club has been a home away from home for tens of thousands of children over the decades. It's been around so long that former members are now sending their own children there after school. Joshua, Skaila, and Kitana are all legacy members.
"It's like a home a little bit," said 8-year-old Kitana.
A home where she and her siblings are encouraged to play and where staff members are always available.
"They help us by like…in the art room they help us get creative, and then in the stem room, he helps us by keeping us safe on the internet," said 9-year-old Joshua.
Joshua told CBS News Colorado that there's only one rule at the club.
"Respecting each other and the staff and equipment, so we don't break stuff or hurt anyone's feelings," he explained.
That is one of the values that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver work to instill in every member.
"I'm trying to instill Boys & Girls Club values: teamwork, innovation, excellence, sense of belonging, respect, integrity. Those are the values that our organization values that I directly align with, and I want to instill those values to set them up for success," said Braden Evans, the Program Manager at Johnson.
It's respect that kept Jamarion coming back to Johnson year after year. He calls the atmosphere at the club "chaotic…in a good way."
"It's full of a lot of kids energy, so kids get to be childish here, and nobody judges you. And I think that's like an important part here because a lot of people feel like they're judged, and people don't get judged here, so you're more comfortable here," he explained.
April has been a member for 12-years. She's as comfortable at the club as she is at home.
"I practically grew up here," she told CBS News Colorado. "What I've come to love the most is just the opportunities that they have given me."
She is currently working on her Youth of the Year application essays. As part of the application process, she has to advocate for an issue that's important to her. Youth of the Year is one of several leadership programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs.
"Good leadership…good leadership, and also to know that it's okay to talk to people and know that it's fine if they leave…knowing enough how to connect with people because I was really quiet as a kid growing up. I've really broken out of my shell here," April said of what she's learned during her years at the club.
Opportunities is what Michael likes best about the club too.
"You get to do things that you never get to do if you're just out there and have nobody to mentor you, or to just be there," he said.
Members like Michael, April, and Jamarion truly have grown up at the club, and credit it for helping them make the transition into adulthood.
"I've learned to be a good person and that it's not always about you, and there are so many things you can do to help people out," Michael said.
They've watched people help the children at the clubs every year with donations of new, unwrapped toys.
"Really growing up I didn't see many of my friends getting toys and stuff. And, then as soon as I came to Boys & Girls Club, I saw that people who were helping other people who didn't really get toys on Christmas. I was like, 'Wow, there's really people out there helping kids,'" Michael explained.
"I feel like it is important because they get excited and feel like that's a really good part in your life, getting excited, feeling that emotion, and I feel like when I was a child getting toys like that lifted my spirits up when I didn't have a lot," Jamarion said.
"Not many kids get presents, not many families can afford them, especially now a days, things are getting really expensive, so yeah, it puts a smile on their faces," April said.
Even the smallest, simplest of toys make lasting impressions on the kids.
"I got this cheetah squishmallow. I named it Cheeto," Kitana says of one of the toys she got.
"I got a baby Yoda thing that I liked, a lot of baby Yoda stuff, and Barbie stuff, and stitch things," Skaila remembered.
"Toys for kids is probably one of the greatest things you can do for a kid. It builds on their imagination and then they can have fun without having to do something physical, with other people, like playing sports. It gives them another opportunity to be a kid and enjoy their life as a kid instead of having to grow up fast, like some other kids had to do," Michael said.
The excitement of children at Christmas time is infectious and never more so than at a club. The staff can't help but get carried along.
"My favorite moments in Boys & girls Club history is when we have all the gifts lined up in our gym and we get to see our kids reactions for the first time, and the smiles, and you know their faces just light up. It's a beautiful moment," Evans said. "It also inspires them to be something, like a little rocket ship might inspire a kid to be an astronaut, one day. I think it's so important for kids to have the ability to play and have those things to play with."
The club holds a holiday party every year and members earn the chance to pick their presents. It's a time of joy, when everyone gets to be young at heart.
"I love Christmas time here. It's really warm and cozy, and when you can't be with your family, this is like your second home," April said.
The Together for Colorado Toy Collection Day is Thursday, December 14, 2023. Michelle Griego and Brian Flores will be live at the King Soopers at Yale & Colorado starting at 5:00 a.m. The store opens at 6:00 a.m., so they will start taking donations then. Olivia Young will join the coverage from Douglas County starting at noon.
At 4 o'clock, Karen Leigh and Michael Spencer will be at Yale & Colorado. Gabriela Vidal will be live in Adams County. Tori Masson will be in Aurora. Karen Morfitt will be in Jefferson County. The drive wraps up at 7:00 p.m., so come out, see and support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver.
for more features.