Category Boys & Girls Clubs

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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Anyone working in youth development will agree that it is best done in person. However, professionals in every sector of the economy have been forced to adapt to an unprecedented crisis, and Youth Development Professionals at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids are no exception.

Unable to continue operations as normal, we’ve been tasked with developing newer and more creative ways to reach our members from afar. For us, that has meant pivoting to virtual programming using platforms such as TikTok, Google Hangouts, and YouTube.

While youth development via a remote medium isn’t ideal, it’s important to remember the roles that our staff members play in the lives of our members. We are mentors, coaches, teachers, role models, and confidants. Our Youth Development Professionals form close bonds with our members and help them navigate the tough road to adulthood. By bringing our programming online, we’re ensuring that those critical relationships continue unimpeded.

But sustaining relationships between members and staff isn’t the only reason that bringing programming online is important for our members’ development. Ensuring that our members have access to our need-based programming content is also a compelling reason.

The development and growth of our community’s young people don’t cease to be important because circumstances are different. We’re adapting to continue to meet our members’ needs. The fitness, character building, and academic programs that we offer remain integral components to our members’ journey to adulthood. Using pre-recorded and live video programming, we will work to ensure our members have access to these crucial resources.

Our development and programming teams continue to work to design and promote effective virtual programs, so any changes that are made to improve the service we provide for families can be found on our website and Facebook page.  

In this effort, we know we are not alone. Boys & Girls Clubs all over the state are also developing new knowledge in virtual programs, and we will be sure to work with them to share best practices and generate new ideas while also ensuring that our programs are tailored to our members’ needs.

Finally, when we get to the other side of this crisis, we are confident that many of the lessons we will have learned in remote programming will still apply. Our new virtual programming will be a dynamic addition to our existing programming in the club and will help us reinforce the lessons we work so hard to instill in our members every day.

As always, our ability to adapt to these unpredictable circumstances wouldn’t have been possible without the continued engagement of our community.

To learn more about our virtual programs, visit our Virtual Club page.

To support our work, donate today.

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On Tuesday, March 10, nearly 300 people filled the room at our 2020 Youth of the Year Luncheon to support our four candidates – Larissa Clay, Dymond Cummings, Marvin Johnson and Myaja Dunning. These young people all did an amazing job over the past few months preparing essays and speeches, and sharing their stories with hundreds of supporters.

We proudly announced our 2020 Youth of the Year winner… Myaja Dunning!

The luncheon raised more than $60,000 to go toward programming and other important needs at our Clubs. We couldn’t be more grateful for the outpouring of support to provide kids in our community a safe place to go after school where they can get the support, encouragement and resources they need to reach their full potential.

Thank you to our sponsors: Lake Michigan Credit Union, Meijer, First National Bank of Michigan, Kitchen 67, Redi Rental, Eastern Floral, Malone IT, and Studio Phrene.
Thank you to our judges: Don Bratt, Brenda Duong, Monica Sparks and Trey Conner.
Also thank you to the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation for their generous matching challenge gift, and to Monica Sparks for her keynote speech!

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Businesses are closing, schools have long since shut, and every day brings new pronouncements from state and federal authorities with new and more restrictive guidelines for how to stay safe. It’s a frightening time for everyone, and families in our community already under financial pressure are now facing an urgent and harrowing challenge that no one could have foreseen.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids isn’t just sitting on the sidelines waiting for the storm to clear and the kids to return. We’re facing this crisis head-on by mobilizing our resources to help our community. Unable to feed dinner to our members as we do during normal operations, we’ve repurposed our food program to serve vulnerable community members. From 4:30pm to 5:30pm, Monday through Friday, our staff serves grab-and-go meals to at-risk young people and family members who might otherwise go without a full meal for dinner. 

Although we are still in the early days of this crisis, the Boys & Girls Clubs’ work has already had a significant impact. Through the first 13 days of our emergency food program, we’ve served 2,605 meals across our three clubs to low-income parents and children in our community.

Our impact isn’t just measured by the number of meals served, however. It’s also measured by the expressions of gratitude from our community. Indeed, community members are speaking out about the crucial support the Boys & Girls Clubs is providing for disadvantaged families.

“It’s getting harder and harder to feed all my children,” said Tanika, a mother of three. “We’re grateful for the Boys & Girls Club.”

“With a lot of us being out of work, and the schools being closed, it’s hard for my kids to get food. It’s so helpful what the Boys & Girls Club is doing for the community,” said Sarah, another mother of three in our community.

The meals we provide are an essential need for those who receive them. And while a public health imperative prevents us from implementing our youth development programming, there is no doubt our emergency food program is still fulfilling our mission to help our community’s young people reach their full potential.

Community members can be confident that we’ll be here throughout this public health crisis, helping to ensure that those most vulnerable to the economic disruption have a hot meal for their family. However, the essential meals we provide for disadvantaged families would be impossible without support from the community, and we’ll continue to rely on that support as we face this challenge together.

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Larissa Clay

  • Sophomore at Union High School
  • Steil Club
  • Member for 5 years
  • Interested in a career as a pediatrician

“To me, the Boys & Girls Club means support. I am supported by the staff and my friends when I’m at the Club. After coming to Steil for so long I feel more comfortable and I am able to be more involved. The Steil Club has become my home away from home. There are chances for homework help, plenty of new opportunities, and a place for relationships to grow.”

Dymond Cummings

  • Freshman at Kellogsville High School
  • Seidman Club
  • Member for 8 years
  • Interested in a career as a dance choreographer

“It’s been eight years since I first stepped foot in a Boys & Girls Club. Since I’ve been attending the Boys & Girls Club, I have built relationships with the staff. I have participated in various club activities and I have even and I have even had several leadership roles. I will be telling you about my experience within the club and how those experiences have shaped me into the person I am.”

Myaja Dunning

  • Freshman at Kent Innovation High School
  • Paul I. Phillips Club
  • Member for 7 years
  • Interested in a career as a OBGYN sonographer

“The Boys & Girls Club is very important to me because this is a safe place for all kids in Grand Rapids, Michigan to come to get out of dangerous neighborhoods. When I say dangerous neighborhoods, I mean bad friend groups, gangs, drug abuse, and homelessness. The Boys & Girls Clubs have changed me because if I did not have the support system that I have with my Mother and the Boys & Girls, I don’t know where I would be at the age of 14 years old.”

Marvin Johnson

  • Freshman at Union High School
  • Steil Club
  • Member for 8 years
  • Interested in a career as a business owner

“Spending eight years of my life attending the Club has changed me in many ways. Because of the Club, I have grown from a mischievous eight-year-old to an entrepreneurial leader and an advocate against bullying, and I have a place to do all of that, safely, with my friends.” 

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