How much do you know about the Boys & Girls Clubs?
For one thing, it’s not necessarily about socioeconomic need. It’s really so much more. So says Ray Nedohon, director of development and marketing for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana. “What we aim to do,” Nedohon explains, “is to turn potential into possibilities.”
Nedohon says that every child is born at risk for many reasons. For example, according to the Indiana Youth Institute (iyi.org), the state of Indiana has the 2nd highest teen suicide rate in the U.S.; it’s number one for kids that have contemplated it. “It may be because of bullying, issues in the home, family problems—these are the kids who need us most,” Nedohon says.
The clubs’ mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need them most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Their vision is to be known and recognized, by parents and youth alike, as the place to go and be in the community to develop skills in the youth they serve by providing beginning, intermediate and advanced services and programs. “If you ask any club member, they will tell you that the first time someone told them that they could reach their goals, it was at the Boys & Girls Club,” Nedohon says.
The Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana supports young people ages 6 to 18 and operates six club locations in Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, Lake Station, Merrillville and Cedar Lake. All except the Merrillville Club are in freestanding locations, with Merrillville’s club housed in the Merrillville Intermediate School. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Porter County have locations in Valparaiso, South Haven, Portage and Duneland.
Nedohon says the clubs promote three core ideals: Academic Success, Character and Leadership, and Healthy Lifestyles. An example of promoting academic success is a Boys & Girls Club national initiative called “Power Hour,” a one-hour period after a child checks in to the club following the school day, where they are required to do homework. If a child legitimately has no homework on a particular day, then he or she must read or engage in an academic activity during that hour. The club provides academic support, including tutoring.
Character and Leadership
Character and leadership are built via a national program called “Youth of the Year.” Young people who exhibit leadership abilities compete for scholarship dollars by writing an essay describing their personal brand, detailing their leadership qualities and conveying the choices they’ve made to live a healthy lifestyle. There are competitions on the club level for “Youth of the Day,” at the regional level for “Youth of the Month” and the national winner of “Youth of the Year” is welcomed at the White House and presented with a $100,000 college scholarship.
There are also two leadership tracks in which youth can participate—The Torch Club and Keystone—each of which promotes civic engagement and becoming a leader within the club structure. Each year, students can travel to the National Keystone Conference, where leadership development is reinforced at a high level. Older participants in the Boys & Girls Club can also aspire to become a Junior Staff Member, the highest youth leadership level in the club.
“Smart Moves” is another national program that promotes a healthy lifestyle. Students are coached in socially responsible behavior and steered away from negative influences like drugs and gangs.
The Community Role
It takes dedicated and committed adult role models to help shape academic success, build character, instill leadership, and guide students toward a healthy lifestyle. Nedohon says it’s “the caring relationship between adult and young person which helps the latter realize his or her full potential.” Mentors include youth development staff, individual club directors and staff.
Many businesses nationwide and in the community support the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana to help it achieve its goals of empowering youth; For example, Arcelor Mittal sponsors Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs at the Hammond and East Chicago clubs, and the organization recently applied for a grant from Boeing to establish a STEM curriculum at the Gary club. Strack and Van Til supplied food for the clubs’ Hot Dog Days during the summer, enabling the young people to sell hot dog meals and fundraise so they are able to attend the National Keystone Conference. “Last year, they raised $15,000,” Nedohon says.
The holidays provide a time for participants in the Boys & Girls Club to be thankful. Nedohon says there is an “influx of calls of epic proportions” to offer aid, food and much needed items like coats to the members of the clubs. The Gary RailCats donate coats from their coat drives, Carmeuse Lime and Stone in Gary adopts 40 Gary club kids for an Angel Tree program, and Strack and Van Til, Indiana Beverage and Miller Coors distribute holiday meals to member families in need.