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By Jeremy Lydic
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Reggie Watson lines up his shot at one of the pool tables at The Boys & Girls Clubs of Youngstown. The table barely comes up to the 7-year-old’s chest, so he has to raise his right arm almost up to his head to adjust the cue stick, but he still sinks the ball in a side pocket.
Watson is one of more than 50 children at the club this evening – a little lighter than the daily average of more than 90. Last year, the nonprofit at 2105 Oak Hill Ave. served more than 900 kids ages 6 to 18, most of whom are from Mahoning County, while others come from Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
Kids arrive after school, so they have energy to burn. The day begins with free time when kids play pool or arcade games in the game room, shoot basketball in the gymnasium, play children’s card games or work on homework. The laughter and sounds of fun ring throughout the building, putting a smile on the face of Germaine McAlpine, the executive director.
“They have so much energy. They definitely make your day better,” McAlpine says.
Free time is monitored by the part-time youth development professionals of the club – the organization employs 20. After that, kids break into groups to do homework, receive tutoring, read and make entries in their journals, McAlpine says.
“That’s for all ages,” he says. “They can get their homework done. We feed them a hot meal every day.”
Addressing academic issues is a hallmark of the club mission, McAlpine says. Programs are designed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to “ensure that all club members graduate from high school on time, ready for a post-secondary education and a 21st century career,” according to the national organization website, BGCA.org.
Germaine McAlpine, executive director, says Serenity Febres “leads by example” as the club’s Youth of the Year.
Power Hour provides tutoring and homework help during the school year as well as mentorships to help students graduate on time. In 2017, the four-year graduation rate in Youngstown City Schools was 74.4%, with the five-year rate in the district 78.5% in 2016, reports the Ohio Department of Education.
Summer Brain Gain is a three-month program designed to alleviate summer learning loss. Research by the Northwest Evaluation Association – a research-based nonprofit in Oregon – found summer learning loss affects math and reading from the third to eighth grades, “with students losing a greater proportion of their school-year gains each year as they grow older – anywhere from 20% to 50%,” according to the website of the nonprofit.
Programming addresses those issues locally, McAlpine says. In 2017, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Youngstown reported 97% of club teens were on track to graduate on time and 78% of all club members were earning mostly A’s and B’s. Numbers for 2018 have not yet been compiled.
“We want to inspire all youth to reach their full potential and become productive and caring citizens,” McAlpine says. “When they graduate from high school, they graduate with a plan to be able to take care of themselves.”
Members are divided into three age groups to “keep all kids in the company of age-appropriate youth,” McAlpine says. Older members can take advantage of programs such as Diplomas to Degrees, a college-readiness program, and Money Matters, which teaches teens financial literacy and money management.
Carleah Hammond and Carment Davis play a card game together.
Career Launch encourages teenage members to assess their skills and explore career options. The program provides opportunities to shadow professionals in the area “so they can see what an engineer does, or what a doctor does,” McAlpine says.
“There’s so many things that they don’t know that they can be,” he says. “But once you put it in front of them and they start to say, ‘Oh, I know someone who is this,’ or ‘I know someone who is that.’ That makes it more attainable for them when they graduate and go on to college or a trade school, or even the military.”
After-school programming is available September through May, Monday to Friday from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m., for an annual fee of $7 per member, providing an affordable option for parents who work. The 10-week summer program is $50 per member.
After moving to the area from Cleveland four years ago, Kandica Thomas needed a place for her seven-year-old son, Lajuan, to go in the evening. She learned The Boys and Girls Clubs building was just down the street from her home, so “I had to inquire,” she says.
“I had to get him into something outside of school so he could have fun,” she says. “And nothing on the streets.”
The school bus takes Lajuan to the club, so Thomas doesn’t have to leave work to take him there, she says. She is so impressed with the organization that she is considering volunteering, she says.
“I want to be a part of the fun,” she says. “And hopefully, down the line, I can mentor kids.”
Kandica Thomas enrolled her son, Lajuan, after moving here from Cleveland.
Transportation is an issue that prevents some kids from traveling to the club, McAlpine says. To eliminate that barrier, the club bought two vans and is looking to offer public-bus passes or school-pickup services to take the kids directly to the club, he says. For students who can’t come to the club, the organization offers services at Stambaugh Charter Academy.
“If they can’t come to us, we’re going to come to them,” he says.
Since launching the site at the Stambaugh Charter Academy in late 2018, as many as 50 second- through eighth-grade students have been attending Monday through Thursday from 2:30 to 6 p.m., says Wendy Thomas, interim principal. The after-school program provides many services offered at The Boys & Girls Clubs, including computer education, snack and dinner, she says.
“We were definitely interested in starting an after-school program, so it worked out for us,” Thomas says. “A lot of parents need some place for their kids to go for supervision, physical activities and to do homework.”
Serenity Febres, 2018 Youth of the Year
Club Teaches Febres to Be Youth Leader
At 15 years old, the leadership and maturity Serenity Febres has exhibited at The Boys & Girls Clubs of Youngstown earned her the 2018 Youth of the Year honor. It’s a long way from where she began at the club, she says.
Febres first came to the club when she was nine. It was scary, she says, “because I didn’t know anybody.” Despite personal issues and, as she says, her “attitude problems,” staff worked with her, helping her with her homework and encouraging her to make new friends.
“I saw how nice they were and how they treated me like I was family, and I felt like I belonged,” Febres says. “They helped me overcome a lot of my fears, like talking to people. I was very anti-social.”
Little by little, things got easier, she says, and today Febres has grown into a leadership role at the club. She works with children ages 6 to 8, tutoring them during Power Hour, reading to them on Wednesdays, playing games and working with them on art projects.
“They like talking to me more than they like talking to some of the adults because I’m still around their age,” she says.
Working with the younger children has helped her mature and “see stuff from different angles,” Febres says. It’s also allowed her to develop more coping skills that “make me a better person.” That personal growth is not lost on the executive director of the club, Germaine McAlpine.
“In her mind, this is her job. It is her job to lead our younger members,” McAlpine says. “I’ve known her for several years now. As she gets older, she becomes more mature. She’s trying to lead by example, and I think that her maturity and all of her leadership is a great example of what we want as a leader in our club.”
Febres is actively engaged in other programs such as Smart Girls, Money Matters, Keystone and the Torch Club.
For the Youth of the Year competition, Febres had to write three essays and deliver a speech about what she wants to do after graduating from The Academy for Urban Scholars in Youngstown. With an affinity for art, she says she wants to enroll at a trade school to be a cosmetologist.
“If you enjoy doing something, you should do it and you should be able to make money and enjoy doing what you do,” she says. “I also want to make people feel better about themselves.”
Her time at The Boys & Girls Clubs has inspired her to give back as well. In addition to work, she hopes to start her own nonprofit organization to serve homeless veterans in the area.
“I feel like they served for us, so we should be able to help them,” she says. “There’s a lot of homeless veterans out there that don’t get help.”
While Febres’ Youth of the Year submissions earned her the local recognition, she didn’t advance beyond the next round of the competition, she says. However, she plans to try again this year.
“The judges said they really liked me and they wanted me to come back,” she says.
As need increases, McAlpine looks to add more satellite sites. “We are constantly growing,” he says. “So we are looking at expanding into more sites throughout the year.”
In addition to academics, club programs focus on developing character and citizenship, including responsibility, respect, accountability and leadership skills. Passport to Manhood engages young men ages 11 to 18 in discussions and activities that reinforce character, leadership and positive behavior, and Smart Girls is a health, fitness, prevention, education and self-esteem enhancement program for girls ages eight to 18.
Membership coordinator Jacquetta Peoples says those programs are two of her favorites because “it keeps them up on things that are going on in day-to-day life and how they can react to things like being under peer pressure.” The staff also works to ensure members are getting along with each other, she says.
Jacquetta Peoples, membership coordinator (center), with students (from left) Precious Parnaby, Reggie Watson, Avery Crowder, Serenity Robinson and Dasiya Kimble.
“Parents want to know if we talk to them about bullying, and that’s one of our biggest topics,” she says. “We have zero tolerance for bullying here. So we try to make sure there is no bullying going on and that the kids are safe.”
When bullying occurs, Peoples says she talks to the kids about what’s going on, which usually isn’t serious “but it could get serious.” She also makes the bully and the child being bullied both wear a heart with each other’s name written on it all day and makes them participate in activities together.
“By the time it’s the end of the day, they know each other and they’re glad to have done that. They’re glad to have been with a friend,” she says.
At the end of the evening, kids spend time cleaning the building, including sweeping, stacking chairs, wiping windows, running the vacuum and mopping, McAlpine says.
“This is their facility. Over the past four years, we’ve built a culture of being a family,” he says. “This is like a second home to everybody.”
This year, McAlpine launched a recruitment drive to reach a goal of serving more than 1,000 kids in 2019. He’s also planning to enhance the backyard of the club by adding walking trails, basketball courts and a baseball field.
“We have a lot of space, and we’re looking at putting all of that here at the club,” he says. “So when they do come to the club, they can go outside and be active in a safe, controlled environment.”
Pictured at top: Promoting the importance of local food nourishes the local economy, says Jim Converse of Common Wealth Inc.
CLICK HERE for a 3 Minutes With interview Germaine McAlpine who discusses how the Boys and Girls Clubs of Youngstown addresses issues like lack of transportation, summer learning loss and timely graduation.
How You Can Help
Community members can make a positive impact on the Boys & Girls Club of Youngstown by making a donation or volunteering their time.
Operating expenses for the year usually reach $600,000 for all sites and staff, says Germaine McAlpine, executive director. The organization operates entirely on fundraising efforts, grants, foundation support and individual donations. To make a donation, go to BGCY.org and click the red Donate Now button.
Volunteer opportunities are also listed at the website. Individual volunteers can assist with tutoring, programs or mentoring. Businesses and service clubs can partner with the organization through in-kind services, Done in a Day service projects, marketing and event help as well as general operation help. McAlpine suggests signing up for the nonprofit’s newsletter and following it on social media.
“It’s all about us investing in our youth,” he says. “Because these youth need to know that we are invested in them being great one day.”
In part 3 of our Thought Leaders interview, RJ Thompson talks about growing up with cystic fibrosis and what makes YSU students exceptional.