When it comes to helping children grow up to be responsible, productive citizens who give back to and enrich their local community, it’s all about character, and the Dusty Rhode Portage Boys & Girls Club has been proudly promoting character in Portage by caring for and committing to Portage youth since 1996.

For All Kids

For more than 150 years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America have existed as a positive alternative to the streets for aimless youth, yet the Clubs aren’t just for troubled kids. Caleb Hall, program director for the Dusty Rhode Boys & Girls Club of Portage, grew up as a Club kid, and says, “The Boys & Girls Club is for all kids, for those from affluent backgrounds to those from more impoverished backgrounds. It’s about building character, of course, but that includes wanting kids to come here and have fun while becoming good people. These programs teach success and make kids realize what they can do individually and as a community.”

Sports and Cheer

The Dusty Rhode Portage Boys & Girls Club, which had 404 kids participating in the Club in February 2016 alone, offers a variety of free programs for its members (the Club’s affordable annual membership fees typically range from $10 to $35). Kids can come in to play dodgeball, basketball or football. They can also shoot pool, do arts and crafts, or play board games for recreational fun. Tutoring and homework help, which is often an expensive option that’s out of reach for many families, is free at the Club.

The Club’s athletic programs include semi-competitive sports leagues and, exclusive to the Dusty Rhode Portage Boys & Girls Club, the Portage Pom Cheerleading Club, open to girls in the first grade up to age 13. “Some girls don’t like traditional sports, and we were wondering how to get more girls involved,” Hall recalls. “Two of our staff members who did cheer in high school came up with the idea for Portage Pom.”

Portage Pom cheers for Club athletic games and performs dance routines at half-time, and Hall says, “I’ve never seen these kids get so excited. They love it, and they do a phenomenal job!”

Creativity and Character

Club kids also get to flex some serious creative and coding skills in the computer lab. Youth in the Image Makers program acquire and refine photography skills, and turn their photographs into digital works of art. Those learning how to code use their coding skills to create videos, video games, cars, and robots such as Lego Mindstorms, a fun marriage between Legos and code.

The Club’s character and leadership building programs include the Torch Club, which nurtures young leadership in kids ages 11 to 13, and the Keystone Club, for teens ages 14 to 18. As Hall explains, “We teach kids that good leadership isn’t just taking things, but that it includes giving back to the community.”

Passport to Manhood and SMART Girls help kids learn to make wise choices like living drug-free, while Date SMART teaches teens to date responsibly by embracing mutual respect and rejecting violence. “We’re here to help ensure that kids don’t make bad decisions, and that they know what they’re getting into as they grow up,” he says.

Positive Reinforcement

When school is out during scheduled days off during the school year and in the summer, members have fun in Kids Camp with daily planned activities and field trips. “Last year, we went to Sky Zone and Shedd Aquarium,” says Hall. And with a brand new teen center, along with new electronics purchased through a generous grant from Best Buy, participants have expanded opportunities for fun year-round.

“Kids need positive reinforcements in their lives, and our staff goes above and beyond to make sure that they are having fun,” says Hall. He also points out that staff members offer emotional support when children come to them with family and peer issues. “Kids open up differently to staff members than they do their parents,” he explains. “The staff members have an impact on these kids’ lives.”

For Hall, his journey in the Boys & Girls Club has come full circle. “I joined the Valparaiso Boys & Girls Club in second grade, so I grew up there,” he says. “Now I get to make an impact on kids’ lives, and it’s nice to think that some of our Club kids might find their best friend here to stand up in their weddings someday. Perhaps some of these kids might grow up to say, ‘I want to work at the Club, too.’ Whether the kids go on to work at the Club or elsewhere, we work hard to guide kids to grow up to give back to their community.”

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