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After school retreat becomes educational adjunct during the pandemic
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After school retreat becomes educational adjunct during the pandemic

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There have been some changes in recent years at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana, but the mission has remained the same.

“It’s all about helping kids reach their full potential,” said Dylan McKee, director of external affairs at the Boys & Girls Clubs.

There are three primary focus areas for the organization — academic success, healthy lifestyles and good character/citizenship.

McKee said the Boys & Girls Clubs, which serve children 6 though 18 years old, promotes those characteristics through its programming that’s fun for members while working toward specific goals.

Though the programs and activities, children can develop positive self-image, have access to technology, participate in college tours, form healthy habits, learn sportsmanship and develop meaningful relationships.

McKee said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana regularly reviews its programs. “Every year we reflect on what we do and how we can improve,” McKee said.

There are 10 local clubs associated with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana. They are in Cedar Lake, Chesterton, East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Lake Station, Merrillville, Portage, South Haven and Valparaiso.

Though the clubs have been long established in the Region, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana was formed in 2018 after the Boys & Girls Clubs of Porter County and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana decided to merge.

Doing so made the locations stronger and created an opportunity to enhance programming.

The merger also made the organization more efficient by reducing administrative overhead, money that has been reinvested in the clubs.

As an example, McKee said a $1.6 million renovation project was recently finished at the Hammond club.

McKee said the organization serves about 10,000 registered members, with around 2,200 attending daily before the pandemic.

The clubs temporarily closed in March and reopened in June with the implementation of several safety procedures including reducing capacity to about 50% so members can space out when participating in programs. Participants also must wear masks and have their temperatures taken when entering facilities. 

Under traditional situations, members would go from room to room to take part in the various activities. But the pandemic as limited the movement, and proper hand washing is promoted when transitioning to a different activity.

McKee said operations have been somewhat fluid during recent weeks, and adjustments are being made in response to virtual learning decisions made by schools districts. As classroom instruction has moved online, the clubs have put an emphasis on learning assistance for members. 

In that program, students can come to the club to take part in their virtual learning activities in a safe and supportive environment. The students are spread out, and they won’t be around as many people as they would in school.

“It’s kind of like a mini classroom setting,” McKee said.

He said trained staff is available to assist students, and the Boys & Girls Clubs work closely with school districts regarding the learning assistance program. This ongoing dialogue with school officials is helpful, McKee said.

Visit bgcgreaternwi.org for information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana and ways to get involved.

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