The Value of Girls and Boys

by Diane Dimond on April 25, 2011

Best Way to Curb Youth Crime - Get to 'Em Early

So often in this space I write about terrible things being done to – and sometimes by – the children of America. From sex trafficking to bullying, it is easy for a crime and justice writer to get mired in the all the negative surrounding our kids.

This time let’s concentrate on the positive.

Any child psychologist will tell you young people crave attention, structure and discipline. Any cop on the beat will tell you there are plenty of kids who just don’t get it at home. Their parents are either too busy working to pay the bills or their parents can’t pass it on because they never got it themselves.

Club Activity in New Jersey

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America are here to fill the gap. You can find a club in all 50 states. At last count they serve about four million kids in big cities and small towns at dedicated Boys and Girls Club buildings or places like schools, on Native American lands and at military bases.

I recently got involved in this wonderful organization and realized that what they do goes a tremendously long way to keep kids on the right path, away from the criminal element and focused on hope for their futures. 65% of the Club’s members are from minority families, 47% come from single parent households, the majority of members are boys but 45% are girls.

This poster girl is a young Jennifer Lopez

The Club staff members check each child’s report card every quarter and when they see trouble a special after-school tutoring squad steps in. A certain grade level must be maintained before the child can be a member of the basketball, baseball, aquatic, karate or other athletic team. If a child is hungry they are fed a hot meal, if an older member needs help for college the Club steps up to try to attract scholarships.

If the child has a unique challenge – for example, I met one young Club graduate who had suffered with a terrible stutter at one point – the Club offers encouragement and puts out the call to its web of volunteers to get the needed help.

Denzel Washington and BGCA card

If a family is unable to pay the nominal dues — often between just 5 and 8 dollars a year – perhaps they have multiple children in the home – the BGCA find a way to subsidize them.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America make such a lifelong impression on these kids that a huge proportion of the 54 thousand trained professional staffers nationwide were once Club members themselves. Once a member, always a member.

During my visit to one of the most celebrated clubs – the Kip’s Bay Club in the Bronx, New York – beaming staff member Dwayne Lindo reminded me that singer/actress Jennifer Lopez got her start right there as part of the club’s renowned performing arts program. Lopez is still involved in the organization as one of their national spokespeople. Two-time Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington, also a New York Club alumnus, is another.

Wesley Clark was a member

“The Club is where I looked for hope, purpose and direction,” Washington says today. “That’s where I learned to dream – and to think big.”

Other now famous Boys and Girls Club members include: General Wesley Clark who joined a Club in Little Rock, Arkansas as a boy and rose to become a four-star general and NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe; Secretary of the Interior and former Congressman Manuel Lujan who joined the Club started by his father in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Shaquille O’Neal who says he honed his basketball skills at a Club in Newark, New Jersey and has donated 1 million dollars to build technology centers for the kids; Actor Martin Sheen says he and six brothers practically grew up at the club in Dayton, Ohio back in the 40’s and 50’s.

Joyner found focus at BGCA

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, considered one of the greatest female athlete of the 20th century, was not only a member of a Boys and Girls Club in rough and tumble East St. Louis, Missouri she later opened another Club there. Joyner-Kersee says the organization helped her from taking the wrong path in life and kept her focused on developing her potential.

Many former members are active in fund raising which is where most of the Club’s money comes from. The weakened economy has meant some funds have dried up but still Staples donates school supplies to the tutoring programs, Microsoft and IBM give computers and keeps them running. Coca Cola sponsors nutrition programs and JC Penney generates millions of dollars for the Clubs by urging customers to “round up” their bill at check out. Bank of America helps the Clubs feed hungry children.

Martin Sheen as BGCA Kid

This isn’t a solicitation for money, although I can’t think of a more worthwhile cause.

The organizations motto is: “Boys & Girls Clubs believe every child has the potential to BE GREAT. Clubs strive to build caring, responsible citizens…to create a positive place full of hope and opportunity for every child.”

Sounds GREAT to me and I wanted you to know. After all, it is programs like these that can break the cycle of young people turning to crime.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane April 25, 2011 at 9:47 am

Facebook Friend Delilah Jones writes:

“Diane, thanks for the positive approach to helping kids. Along with Upward Bound and other great programs like Boys and Girls Club, America’s youth have an opportunity to rise above!”

Reply

Lydia April 25, 2011 at 10:31 am

Diane, thank you for your personal time and support of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Your article will help us focus more awareness in communities nationwide where Boys & Girls Clubs are committed to serving the youth that need the most support and encouragement. Thank you for waving our BGCA flag!

Reply

marc April 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm

this is a very positive article diane ! the boys and girls club is a positive influence on many who need it !

Reply

Patti Petow April 25, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Diane,

What a great way to instill positive values and ethics into our kids. I was a child of the sixties and seventies and how uncool it was to even think of associating ourselves with such an organization. I was raised around a lot of snotty kids who prided themselves on how much booze they could steal out of their parents’ liquor cabinet. Smoking pot and doing other drugs was considered a rite of passage. Oh, how uncomfortable I was with those kids! I was fortunate enough to find other outlets to keep me occupied.

In those days, it didn’t seem like it occurred to our parents to involve us in such a fine mentoring program as The Boys and Girls Club of America. You never know, a few of my old school chums might still be around today if they would have had the opportunity at a young age to take advantage of the programs that the BGCA.
As far as I am concerned, I think it’s the new “cool” and should be promoted that way.

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Diane April 25, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Patti!
By Jove I think you’ve got it! The Boys and Girls Clubs are the “new cool”….Love it.
Thanks! ~ DD

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Dick Guthrie April 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Diane – thank you so much for your story on Boys & Girls Clubs! I am an alumnus of the Norfolk, VA club, worked for the clubs for many years and currently chair the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club board in Richmond, VA – so I have seen all sides of the organization. It is a wonderful, magical place and has changed lives of countless youth. Thanks for your support!

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Diane April 27, 2011 at 4:45 pm

My pleasure, Dick! I only wish there were more Club supporters like you out there! ~ DD

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