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As a psychologist, Abraham Maslow believed that people have an inborn desire to be self-actualized, to be all they can be.

Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” study suggests that to achieve this ultimate goal a number of basic needs must first be met, such as the need for food, safety and security. It is only once those are secured, that we are motivated, as humans, to seek belonging, love and self-esteem.

When I reflect on my continual journey to being a self-actualized person, I cannot help but go back to where it all began. My beloved home: Gary.

It was an interesting time growing up as a child in Gary in the early 1990s. During this period, Gary received a reputation for violence, and according to the media, no one was safe. Yet, as a child, I didn’t see it this way.

Just like many of my friends, I had a mother who worked tirelessly to provide for our family, which meant that as a latchkey kid I would often return from school to an empty home. There were days when a misplaced key meant I couldn’t enter the house, leaving me looking for a place of security after school. That is, until I was introduced to the John Will Anderson Boys & Girls Club -- a space where I could feel safe, welcome and loved.

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I remember my experience as a club kid like it was yesterday. From third through sixth grade, I walked through the doors of the club alongside newfound friends. It was my first exposure to the power of mentoring through the then club director, Marcus Martin. I engaged in formal programming to interact with older kids I could not help but look up to.

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I spent hours using the club’s computers learning new skills and embracing the chance to access technology. I relished the opportunity to engage in the arts and creatively express my feelings as a child. The impact of the Boys & Girls Club in my life was profound, yet I am only one alumni story in the sea of lives this organization touches every day.

Similar to my experience, nearly one-third of Indiana K-12 children take care of themselves after school each week. When kids need it most, the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Indiana provides nearly 10,000 children in Lake County with the space and resources to become successful through engaging and meaningful afterschool and summer programming.

We can all play a part in establishing a foundation of security by ensuring that all youth throughout the region can continue to have a safe place to play and feel a sense of belonging. It is up to us to support our local Boys & Girls Clubs and the people that nurture these young individuals day in and day out. Take it from someone who experienced the value of their time and attention. Once a club kid, always a club kid!

Eddie Melton is NIPSCO’s manager of governmental and community relations, a member of the State Board of Education, and a local mentoring advocate. He is also chairman of the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males. The opinions are the writer’s.

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