As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm a former volunteer at the Elma, Marilla and Wales Boys and Girls Clubs.
In that past life I had the great pleasure to learn a whole lot about BGCs locally and nationally. I'm going to share a few my favorite facts about the clubs in this post.
To start, let's talk about the age range of club members. Many think that teens are the only children served by BGCs. In Buffalo (and at many clubs around the country) you can become a club member at the tender age of 5 years. The clubs service children all through their high school years. In fact, even after children are no longer eligible to be members because of their age, many stay involved as volunteers or employees.
Moving on, let's look at the membership rules. Especially with inner city families, money is very tight. For many of the programs at BGCs, if a family is below specific income levels, membership fees may be waived. The clubs try very hard to not deny a needy child because of an inability to pay. Understand, those children cost the clubs the same amount as members who pay full freight but clubs try to fund these special cases through donations, scholarships and grants.
Now we'll move in to programming. As I have said a few times, BGCs are not just a big basketball game. If a member wants to do their homework, clubs have learning centers which include computers, books, tutors and more. There are several education specific programs to help members learn how to learn. Examples of these programs include Power Hour and Supplemental Education Services (SES).
It's important to repeat that the BGC's programs help members learn how to learn. Simply teaching a member to parrot an answer for a test is not an efficient approach.. Teaching a child how to study and learn not only prepares them for school, but it also better prepares them for life. I love this about the clubs!
Other critical life prep programs focus on Character and Leadership.
Before I get into the specifics of these programs, let me tell you a quick personal story. In a recent visit to the BGC's Babcock St club site, I had the opportunity to observe several groups of members. I was flat out stunned by the mannerisms of the members. All of the kids, regardless of age, were amazingly polite. Now, I didn't expect to walk in to a circus but I did know that it was a hot summer day and it would have been easy for the kids (or us adults!!) to be cranky or impatient with those around them. The members were patient, they said excuse me, they put away books when they were done with them, they held doors open for fellow members, they addressed staff as Mr. or Miss.... I was so proud of what BGCs were doing for these kids and others at other club sites.
Character and Leadership are so important for people and those traits need to be developed early. The Buffalo BGCs help teach those skills with programs such as Torch Club, Keystone Club, Youth for Unity, Youth of the Month/Year and more. Members work with staff to develop a sense of community and leadership by electing officers, planning service projects, and club activities. By contributing significant hours, teens and alumni can have the opportunity to finance for college, pay off student loans and learn new skills to help them enhance their employment marketability.
By the way, have you noticed that I am this far into my description of BGC programs and I've not yet mentioned sports? In truth, I'm really not close to sports yet. But let's keep moving.
Our next program grouping involves Health and Life Skills. This is the module that includes my selected program - The Food and Nutrition Program. In addition to my favorite program, the clubs also offer SMART Moves, Street SMART, SMART Girls, Passport to Manhood and Health 360.
All of these terrific programs develop young people’s capacity to engage in positive behaviors that nurture their well-being, help them to set personal goals, and develop the competencies to live successfully as self-sufficient adult.
In short, they teach real world life skills. As I mentioned earlier, you must teach children how to learn. Teaching them to be parrots might prepare them to answer today's questions but it rarely prepares them for what ever is around tomorrow's corner.
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