Taniah Ingram is no stranger to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids. She worked at the Club starting in 2017 while in school studying psychology. Now a practicing behavioral health technician and volunteer at the Clubs, she wanted to give back in a unique way – and the Better Beings Creative Mentorship Program was born.

The objective of the Better Beings Creative Mentorship Program is to foster a safe and enriching environment for students to explore their creative niche. It pairs kids with creative mentors to work on art projects while building an understanding of love and belonging, while improving self-esteem and self-actualization.

“The idea for mentorship came about while there was a lot of uncertainty in the world,” explained Taniah. “As a result, I wanted to provide an outlet for expression as well as an enriching environment to do so for the youth in my community. The Boys & Girls Club seemed like the perfect place to begin this journey.”

Club members worked with their mentors to create paintings, drawings and even businesses– all of which were presented at a special showcase event in January.

“I am thrilled to share that our outcome was a success,” said Taniah. “My favorite part of working alongside the children was having the opportunity to witness the overwhelming pride on their faces as they stood next to their completed projects at the showcase.”

Taniah is planning on continuing the Better Beings Creative Mentorship Program again soon and looking forward to welcoming more Club members to participate. Thank you, Taniah, for being an outstanding volunteer!

You can keep up with the Better Beings Creative Mentorship Program on Instagram at @betterbeingsproject.

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For many students, the virtual learning environment has been challenging. For others, it’s been nearly impossible.

Students like Ebony, 7, struggle with online classes. She has been attending our Learning Assistance program and is staying on track, but it’s still tough.

“Ebony is very bright and does really well with in-person school,” said her mom, Mariah. “But she has a really hard time with the online learning. I work fulltime and it was so difficult to help her keep up in the spring.”

Thanks to all of the wonderful support from caring donors like you, Ebony has a place to go for the assistance and guidance she needs. With dedicated staff and a structured environment, she is able to attend classes online but also benefit from daily personal help.

“I am so thankful the Boys & Girls Club is offering this option,” Mariah said. “I don’t know what we would do without them.”

Local school officials are equally as grateful for the program. Many educators are at a loss for how to best help students who struggle with online learning. Programs like the Learning Assistance Program help fill in the gaps.

“With the relentless work of our non-profit partners such as the Boys and Girls Club, the learning that continues with those students who attend the Boys and Girls club is absolute gold,” said Rose Charles Maher. “Thank you to the Boys and Girls Club for your unwavering commitment to our families on the West Side.”

Now more than ever, your support is helping our kids navigate these unprecedented times. During this season of thanks, we are forever grateful for our caring community ensuring all of our kids have access to a bright future.

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Sisters Deandra and Naomi walked in to the Paul I. Phillips Club Monday morning with sparkles in their eyes. After being home from school for more than six months, they were excited to be returning to learn in person at our full-day Learning Assistance Program, supported by caring people like you.

“Hi, Miss V!” Deandra shouted through her mask.

Miss V’s eyes smiled as she returned the greeting. “Welcome back!”

Then Miss V noticed neither girl had any belongings with them. No backpacks, no Chromebooks. They must have left them at home, Miss V thought to herself.

“Girls, did you leave your Chromebooks at home? You will need them for your virtual classes.”

Deandra and Naomi looked at each other, confused, then turned back to Miss V. “No,” said Deandra. “We don’t have Chromebooks at home.”

“Well, come on in. I’ll look into this for you and we’ll get you what you need.” Miss V replied.

Miss V contacted their school to ask about the technology. The school hadn’t heard from the girls since school shut down in March. Virtual classes for this school year had begun three weeks prior, and Deandra and Naomi had not yet logged in.

That day, the girls were able to use Chromebooks provided by the generous support of caring donors like you. Staff helped show the girls how to log in, access their classes, and complete their assignments.

Miss V worked to get the girls their school-issued Chromebooks so they were able to work on them at home, too. Although they started out behind, they know they can come to the Club for help getting caught up.

Our donors helped make this story and so many others possible through their dedicated support. Our community has ensured that kids like Deandra and Naomi have the help they need to navigate this new and challenging school year. At a time of uncertainty and chaos, supporters have helped provide a calm, caring and safe place for our members. Thank you, thank you, thank you – from the bottom of our hearts, and theirs.

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This summer marks the end of an era at the Seidman Center as longtime GRPD officer Michael Harris is retiring after 25 years of service.  Harris, a fixture at the Boys and Girls Club, was one of three officers from the community engagement unit of the GRPD assigned to the organization.

For Officer Harris, this role was all about relationships- with fellow officers, with community partners, but most importantly, with the kids.

Reflecting on his years of service, Officer Harris emphasizes the role Officer Percy Brown, his mentor and predecessor at the Seidman Center.

“Before I came on as the Officer at the Seidman Center, I used to volunteer as a coach in the building. It was Officer Percy Brown who convinced me to come on the community engagement team and work with the young people at the Boys & Girls Clubs in an official capacity.”

It was this pivotal moment that determined the course of his career with the GRPD, a moment that Officer Harris describes as a “work of God.”

 “Building relationships between police departments and communities is so important,” Harris remarked. “I think I had so much success in this role because I can relate so well to these kids. When I see these kids at the club, it’s like looking in a mirror.” Harris went on to describe his upbringing in Grand Rapids and his deep conviction to give back to his community.

His decision to give back to our community’s young people was of immense consequence.

His long and successful career is a testament to the impact that meaningful partnerships between police departments and the community can have in the lives of young people. Throughout the years, Officer Harris designed innovative programs, mentored hundreds of children and leveraged his deep roots in the community to enrich the lives of our members.

Officer Harris’ sports programs instilled character values that continue to reverberate throughout the community. His programs promoted discipline, academic excellence and were committed to helping our members become well rounded individuals.

“We put teams together for both boys and girls of all ages. We got the kids national exposure, and many of them took their careers to the next level,” Mike said about the sports programs he led at the club.

Beyond the sports programs, Officer Harris made it his mission to build relationships between young people and the Grand Rapids Police Department through the creation of programs like Pathways to Policing. This program and others like it give the kids hands on training in police work and exposed them to the daily life of a police officer.

“It’s critical that kids understand that cops are just people out there trying to do the right thing and vice versa.” Harris said.  

While we are grateful for Officer Harris’ service to the Boys and Girls Clubs and our continuing relationship with the Grand Rapids Police Department, we are thrilled about Officer Harris’ new role in the organization. Officer Harris has agreed to come on as a part time youth development professional where he’ll continue the critical work he’s been doing for so long. And with Officer Harris departing his official role with the Grand Rapids Police Department, we are excited to build on the legacies of Officers Harris and Brown with the new officer that the GRPD assigns to the Seidman Center.

With the continued support of the GRPD, we will work together to build enduring relationships and sustainable programs between the police and our community.

Best wishes to Officer Harris!

Photos by: Kymara Stevenson

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Last week, we were finally able to host a revised version of our Be You Wellness Day! Our kids were able to participate in activities meant to improve their health including yoga, cooking, painting and crafts. Each attendee also signed a pledge to take something they learned and put it into practice. Thank you to the Kent County Medical Alliance Society Foundation for their generous support of our Be You Wellness Day!

Photos by: Kymara Stevenson

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We are thrilled to announce we have received a grant of $40,944 from The Children’s Foundation to implement the new Be You Wellness Program!

The Be You Wellness Program will train staff on how to better support youth struggling with mental health, train youth on ways to manage stress, and allow a master’s-level social work intern on-site to provide therapeutic support to youth. The goals for this project are to increase awareness of mental health needs and treatment among staff and Club members, teach young people how to better manage stress and advocate for their mental health needs, and improve the overall mental health and wellbeing of Club members.

Mental health conditions are the leading cause of health problems among youth and it is estimated that only 20% of youth with a mental health condition receive treatment. This is problematic given that poor mental health is strongly correlated with numerous other health concerns and lower educational achievements. Our role is to help support children in overcoming these kinds of adversities by providing education and services, and we are working to place more attention on the mental health needs of children in the community because of the strong causal relationship between poor mental and physical health and long-term negative effects.

“We are so grateful to the Children’s Foundation for this incredible grant,” said Patrick Placzkowski, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids. “We really expect our kids will be coming out of the COVID-19 shutdown with lots of added stress. If we can do things now to help these kids to develop ways to reduce stress and anxiety, it’s going to have benefits 20, 30, 40 years down the road.”

In this project, staff will be trained by Whole Child, Inc., an organization working to limit the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on mental, physical, and emotional health. The trainings from Whole Child will help staff understand the impact of ACEs on the youth they serve, strengthen staff members’ capacities to handle personal stressors, and teach staff ways to model stress management strategies to youth. Further, teenage Club members will also have the opportunity to engage with Whole Child to learn stress management skills and self-regulation behaviors, as well as strategies to mentor younger children on these skills.

Additionally, we have partnered with Grand Valley State University to create an internship placement for master’s-level social work students. The intern will work directly with kids at all three of our locations to provide support where it is needed most.

The grant will provide funding for the trainings, leadership coordination, consultation fees for intern supervisor, and supplies for therapeutic activities.

In the News:

Interview with Shelley Irwin at WGVU

WOODTV 8 Story

Fox 17 Morning Mix

Fox 17 Morning News

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This month, local families in need will have access to more than 4,000 free meals due to a partnership between Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids (BGCGR) and MedExpress Urgent Care, a neighborhood medical center.

Starting May 18, MedExpress will sponsor BGCGR’s meal service to provide local families access to free, fresh, hot dinners to help mitigate food insecurity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. BGCGR is also providing dinner delivery to Club families who do not have access to transportation or who are unable to otherwise make it to the Club.

“The Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids understands the importance of supporting parents and caregivers by helping with essentials like food and basic household items,” said Patrick Placzkowski, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids. “Thanks to support from MedExpress, we’re able to provide some stability during this difficult time by continuing to feed families in and around Grand Rapids.”

MedExpress will also provide families with activity boxes that include kid-friendly projects and supplies like sidewalk chalk, crayons, jump rope and activity sheets to help children stay physically and mentally active during the shelter-at-home order.

“We know that there are those in our communities who need a little extra support right now,” said Emily Reinbold, Director of Communications, Community and Company Initiatives, MedExpress. “We’re here to help make sure our local families have what they need to stay safe and healthy, which includes having access to warm meals.”  

Thank you, MedExpress!

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