Author MaryAnne Flier

The BGC Games Rooms are, of course, a place for Club members to have fun. But they’re also a place where friendships form and leadership skills are honed.

Each Club has at least two Games Rooms – one for the teens, and one for the rest of the kids. Paul I. is unique in that there are separate spaces for all three groups: Teens, Cadets (6-8), and Intermediates (9-12). The Games Rooms have pool tables (regular pool and bumper pool), foosball, air hockey, and carpetball. Gaming systems are available for all ages, and our Seidman Club has an outdoor playground that is utilized by the Cadets and Intermediates, as well! For Club members who don’t enjoy the noise levels that can be involved in typical Games Room activities, there are board games, Legos, and other calm, quiet options.

Staff are always present in the Games Rooms, sometimes playing games, sometimes observing from the sidelines. In the Intermediate Room at Paul I., Mr. Harvey shared that while the kids wait their turns for a game, he often has them read to him. This gives them practice and gives him the chance to gauge their reading skills and discover in what areas they could use improvement. If needed, he spends time going over sentence structure, proper grammar, and other components of reading and writing.

In the Games Rooms, Club members who are natural leaders truly have a chance to shine. Each individual game has a sign-up sheet to eliminate any question of whose turn it is, and older kids in each room have been seen taking charge of the sign-up sheets and answering questions without having to involve staff. A 10-year-old leader saw me looking around (probably somewhat uncomfortably) on my first night at Steil and invited me to join his game of pool. Four tiny members, who could hardly see over the edge of the foosball table in the Cadet Room at Paul I., were instructed by an equally small peer on which handles to use and which direction each team needed to go.

Kids who are more reserved often come out of their shells a little in these rooms. Playing games together can create space for easier, more natural interactions. And for all of the kids, reserved or not, friendships grow in the Games Rooms. An accidental benefit of the sign-up sheets is that kids play with whoever is next on the list, not necessarily with people they already know. Staff and volunteers are sometimes able to more easily engage kids in the Games Rooms than in other areas. This not only helps to foster relationships between the volunteers, staff, and Club members, but also gives the adults a chance to nudge students into new relationships with one another. As Ms. Ashley, Program Specialist at Seidman, points out, those connections among the kids are incredibly important fo 8r their social growth. She shared that helping the kids form those social support systems and feelings of belonging is one of her favorite, most meaningful things she does at BGC. With Ms. Ashley and every other staff member and volunteer pouring into the Club members each day, BGC Games Rooms will always be more than just a place for fun, they’ll also continue to be a place for growth.

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Fostering creativity and self-expression through art is a focus at all three of our Grand Rapids Clubs. This is accomplished indirectly, with coloring supplies being readily available in each room of the clubs. But it is also accomplished with great intentionality, with staff directing art projects every evening. Students are also encouraged to dream up their own creations and are given access to the materials they need to create those masterpieces.

Darren, an 8-year-old at Paul I., drew a self-portrait and shared that was his favorite thing to draw – but sometimes he really likes to draw his family, too. When he finished his colored pencil self-portrait, he asked for cardboard so he could create his own mask.

Leah, a 5th grader, found items around the room to trace in order to create her picture just as she envisioned it. She traced around a paint bottle to create a perfectly round head, a glue stick for the outer edge of the eyes, and a marker cap for the inner portion of the eyes. After she had completed the outline of her sketched figure, she asked for scrap paper so she could test the skin tone markers and find the best shades for skin, hair, and even blush. 

An 8th-grader at Steil spent the entire evening at a table in the games room working on different drawings. Sometimes friends crowded around her table, and sometimes she worked quietly on her own. She shared that, for her, the hardest part of art was coming up with the idea of what to sketch and finding the time to finish the drawings she started. She admitted with a smile that she often worked on her drawings during school, too.

At Seidman, the planned project went slightly awry for a short time. Hot glue guns were needed to affix popsicle sticks into the shape of the students’ first initials, but the glue sticks were nowhere to be found. Dymond, our 2021 Youth of the Year, assisted as staff scrambled to find a solution. Ms. Aliyah came to the rescue with a gigantic box of glue gun sticks that had been moved to the office, and the art project commenced!

As a mom of young kids, I admit that art has not always been encouraged in my own home. What I know will be the resulting mess can sometimes be just too daunting! Yet at Boys and Girls Club, I’ve seen that mess embraced and celebrated. When Chloe, a member at Paul I., wanted to practice a paint-splattering technique, Ms. Sarah simply handed her a paint shirt and moved a child from Chloe’s table to another to reduce any collateral damage.

It turns out that it’s amid that mess that beauty can be created and flourish. In the words of composer Stephen Sondheim, “Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” What a beautiful lesson for our Club members to learn firsthand!

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Upon entering any of the Grand Rapids Clubs at any time, the organization’s mission to enable youth to “reach their full potential… through education” will be distinctly evident. With full expectation that each one will raise their hand, Paul I. Phillips Club director, Coach O., calls out to the students circled on the gym floor in front of him, “Who here is a genius?” A mural in Paul I.’s Learning Center features the words, “What’s Your Gift?” with a picture of brain beneath. A “Word of the Week” poster adorns the office wall at Seidman. At Steil, Club members join the dinner line after answering Mr. Chris’ trivia questions.

Each of our Clubs partners with its nearby schools. This partnership takes different forms, such as transportation. Steil does school pick-ups from Sibley Elementary – actually walking with the students due to its close proximity – and driving students from Harrison and Stocking. Seidman picks up students from Hope Academy, and Paul I. currently picks up students from Gerald R. Ford Academy. Another area in which BGC partners with schools is through its engagement with Kent School Services Network (KSSN). As part of this network, BGC attends monthly meetings of the Community School Leadership Team, where upcoming events are shared, as well as needs within the schools and/or within BGC or other organizations. Such awareness allows those within the network (including our Clubs) to strive to meet those needs!

Each Club holds a daily Power Hour. This time is designated for students to work on their homework, with the warm, willing assistance of staff members. Kids who don’t have homework can choose between reading a book or completing a grade-level-appropriate worksheet. At Seidman, Ms. Julie offers tutoring for those who need a little extra boost. With over forty years of experience as an educator, she is a priceless asset to our students! And she doesn’t stop at “just” tutoring… she pitches in to facilitate other programs as well. One example is teaching rhythm, pitch, and tone to a group of kids. The music they collaborated to make was such a joy to hear!

When Power Hour is over, the learning doesn’t stop! Staff often facilitate educational activities for the youth after they are split into their age groups – Cadets, ages 6-8; Intermediates, ages 9-12; and Teens, 13-18. Ashlyn, an 11-year-old at Paul I., shared that she comes to BGC every day. “My favorite thing here is playing math games,” she mused, “I’m really good at math.” Two 7-year-old girls at Paul I. sat together on a stool in the Cadet Room, writing math equations on a marker board. “Oops! You forgot a 4! And your 5 is backward!” one told the other. They giggled together and fixed the numbers, going on to do another equation. At Seidman, Mr. Nick handed out word searches and mazes. When students were finished, he checked their work carefully to make sure it was completed with best efforts, then rewarded those efforts with a small trinket or sheet of stickers. At Steil, one 9-year-old boy asked if he could help the younger kids with their homework, commenting later that “it was hard to tell them how to do it without telling them the answers, but I figured it out! Maybe I could be a teacher someday!” Maybe, indeed, young sir. Keep striving to reach your full potential!

This blog post was written by our Communications Intern – MaryAnne Flier! We asked MaryAnne to share a little about herself:

Hello! My name is MaryAnne, and I’m a senior at Aquinas College (though a small club member recently pointed out that I’m a lot older than most college students). I have two kids, Jackson (almost 10) and Maya (7), and when Jackson started school in 2016, I started classes part-time at GRCC. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I just took a variety of classes that interested me, working toward a general Associate of Arts degree. In 2018, I fell into the field of geography when my professor taught a required geography course through the lens of social justice (something about which I’m super passionate). I finished my A.A there in 2020, then transferred to Aquinas, where I’m double-majoring in Geography and Community Leadership and plan to graduate this coming spring!

For my Community Leadership major, I’m doing an internship with Boys and Girls Club this semester, capturing stories of the day-to-day in each of the clubs and sharing them to social media and the BGC blog. I’ve also been able to attend a couple of community partnership meetings. It’s early in the semester, but it has already been such a privilege to be involved with such a wonderful organization. My kids attend the clubs with me and absolutely love their time at each one; I feel like their involvement gives me a little extra insight into the positive impact that BGC has on its members! 

When I’m not at school or doing homework (or at Boys and Girls Club), I love to get out and hike with my dog and also enjoy reading and cooking/baking! 

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