At the Jim and Kay Flodin Boys and Girls Club of Rockford, Ill., Kailie Wright, 10, and six of her friends diligently stuff backpacks with paints, crayons, paper and other school supplies for shipment to children in Afghanistan.
It makes me feel good knowing Im helping out other people, says Kailie, who has regularly visited the club after school since she was 5 years old.
The backpacks are part of a service project in the Torch Club, a leadership development program offered by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Kailie doesnt mind that she wont see the results of her work. I dont care, as long as I know its helping their education, she says, as the sounds of squeaking sneakers and bouncing basketballs echo in a nearby gymnasium.
The Torch Club is one of dozens of activitiesincluding organized sports, educational programs, help with homework, field trips, volunteering, career planning, arts, and health and life skillsthat are all part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Americas mission: To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as caring, productive, responsible citizens.
Kailies mom, Colleen Wright, a schoolteacher, has seen the organizations mission fulfilled through her daughter. Shes definitely aware of the fact that she needs to be more helpful around the house, Wright says. Also, I think she takes on a little more responsibility (at home) . . . its more meaningful for her, its more of an intrinsic motivation for her.
Birth of a club
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Americas roots date back to the mid-1800s when an influx of immigrants came to the United States looking for a better life. While the adults worked in factories and mills, young boys were left to find fun, or in some cases trouble, on the streets.
The first social club for boys, called the Dashaway Club, was formed in 1860 when four civic-minded women in Hartford, Conn., invited boys off the streets and into their homes for refreshments. Meetings were later moved to a nearby school, where daily structured activities were provided. Over time, the boys club movement spread to other cities, reaching farther west and south. In 1906, 53 clubs joined together to form The Federated Boys Club, which in 1931 became the Boys Clubs of America. While individual clubs allowed girls to participate in some programs, it wasnt until 1990 that the name was officially changed to include girls.
Today, the organization accomplishes its mission with a 50,000-person staff at 4,300 clubs in all 50 states and on U.S. military bases around the world. Membership fees for the 4.8 million kids, ages 5 to 18, average $5 to $10 per child annually.
A helping hand
For single working mom Angie Lampe-Mapel, 42, of Machesney Park, Ill. (pop. 22,423), the Carlson Boys & Girls Club has been a blessing, providing a safe, positive environment for her kidsBreanna, 16, Nicholas, 10, and Ethan, 5after school and during the summer.
Her daughter, Breanna, began going to the club at age 9 to participate in cheerleading, and quickly got more involved, embracing opportunities such as Power Hour, a homework help and tutoring program designed to raise academic proficiency.
Lampe-Mapel says Power Hour helped Breanna overcome difficulties with math. Kids sometimes relate to other people better than their parents, so it gives the kids an outlet, says Lampe-Mapel, who volunteers along with Breanna at the clubs monthly teen dances, which draw up to 400 youth.
Her son, Nicholas, enjoys the sporting activities. I usually go into the gym first and shoot hoops or play dodgeball, Nicholas says. He also takes advantage of Power Hour and uses the clubs computer lab, which for some kids is the only chance, outside of school, to use a computer.
Lampe-Mapel says the club has helped so many in her community. I dont know what a lot of kids would do if they didnt have this program, she says, because its sometimes all they have.
For some Boys and Girls Clubs, like the one in Pryor, Okla., known as the Gurley Club, providing basic necessities, such as nutrition for hungry children, is paramount to their mission. The club is one of nine clubs that serve the Cherokee Nation in northeast Oklahoma. After noticing that many of the kids were arriving at the club hungry, the staff launched the Kids Cafea program through Feeding America that provides meals to hungry childrenin March 2007.
Today, kids eat dinner shortly after arriving and the benefits have shown in their ability to focus on their studies. They do so much better with their homework in Power Hour when their tummies arent growling and theyre not focused on food, says Christine Taylor, the clubs grants administrator.
On Fridays, kids are sent home with their backpacks full of nonperishable foods for the weekend. Part of this clubs programming includes a special initiative for nutrition and diabetes education. Of 1,700 Kids Cafes throughout the nation, nearly 400 are located in Boys and Girls Clubs.
Carol Reed, 58, a chef at the Kids Cafe in Pryor, provides a balanced meal for 80 to 100 kids each weekday evening. Ive seen some alumni kids come back and visit the staff just to say, Thank you for what youve done for me when I was a kid, Reed says.
Reed has seen firsthand the impact the club has had on the community. Its a wonderful place for the kids, she says. It takes them off the streets, keeps them out of trouble. Its a positive place where we strive that this is their club. Its their responsibility to keep it a positive place.
One club alumnus, high school senior Abby Stephens, 18, still strives to make her club a positive place, and he takes advantage of ClubService to earn money for college. The ClubService program, in cooperation with AmeriCorps, allows club members and alumni, ages 17 to 24, to continue serving their club on a volunteer basis.
Stephens, whos been dancing since age 2, teaches ballet and jazz to children ages 8 to 12. Its a really good program, Stephens says. Especially getting to give the girls that wouldnt normally take dance an opportunity to experience what its like. The girls are so excited to come to class every week.
Boys and Girls Clubs of America undoubtedly have an positive impact on the communities they serve. According to the latest alumni survey, 28 percent of former club members reported that they wouldve dropped out of high school if not for the club and nearly 67 percent credit the influence of club staff for giving them the ability to avoid difficulty with the law.
Those sorts of statistics dont surprise Derek Papich, unit director of the Flodin Boys and Girls Club in Rockford. They become our kids, Papich says. Theyre here five days a week and many are here during awake hours more than theyre at home. This is where they come to learn problem-solving skills, how to share, how to say no to drugs, the tools to be successful adults in our community.