Category Programming

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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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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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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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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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Lauren is 7 years old and it’s her first day at the Paul I. Phillips Club.  She doesn’t know anyone, and isn’t sure what to do.  Staff members show her around the club and introduce her to many club members.  She is so shy that she can barely say “hello”.  Lauren tries the Games Room, the Gym, and the Learning Center.  None of the program areas were interesting to her.  Finally, we take her to the Art Room, where we think she might find something she likes to do.  Instead, Lauren puts her coat on because she’s shivering, and puts her head down at the table and begins to sleep.  Unsure how to help, we call her mother, and her mother picks her up.  

The next day, we focus on her and make sure she is exposed to plenty of fun.  How can we help her come out of her shell?  Staff introduce her to several volunteers.  Our volunteers show her a few team building games.  Lauren enjoys herself, but she is still quiet and has not smiled yet.  The next time we see her at the Club, she gets her picture put up on the wall of the Cadet Game Room for winning the Twister tournament of the day.  Her entire disposition has done a 180.  She greets staff members by name with a huge smile lit up on her face.  She participates in every activity with her age group.  What has changed?  Club member Araya approaches her and gives her a hug.  “That’s my best friend!” she says about Lauren.  Araya and her sister A’micka have begun to include Lauren in all of the things that they do.  They even added her in their Winter Concert dance performance!  

It is easy to see that Lauren feels like she belongs here with new friends, a team of staff members, as well as volunteers who care about her.  At the Boys & Girls Club, it’s our duty to make sure a child in the community never falls through the cracks.  At the clubs, it’s possible for each club member to find a friend or a staff member who can scoop them up and lift them higher than where they thought they could go.  What kids might not be getting at home or school, whether it’s a positive adult or a caring friend, or even someone to notice them, they have a chance to get that here.  

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I remember the first time I met Mattea at the Seidman Club back in 2016. She was a very reserved young lady who seemed to have a chip on her shoulder about life. We introduced ourselves and slowly started to get to know each other better as people.

Shortly thereafter, I asked Mattea if she would she allow me to mentor her through our mentoring program. In completing her profile document, I asked her about her background including her personal interests, hobbies, and clubs she belonged to at school.  Those questions allowed me to dialogue with Mattea and get a look inside her personal life. Most importantly, it built our relationship and we began to trust each other.  Mattea really started to open up and took on more of a leadership role in and around the Club.

In 2017, I approached Mattea about applying for our annual Youth of the Year contest.  Mattea accepted the opportunity and ended up as the Seidman Club Representative.  She had the opportunity to share her personal life story and challenges, and did a wonderful job on her essay and speech.

Shortly after that, Mattea moved from Grand Rapids to east Michigan.  I had not heard from her until I visited Seidman recently and saw a picture of a beautiful young lady – and it was Mattea!

I asked Seidman Club Director Phylicia Wilson to have Mattea contact me, which she did. Mattea came by the Paul I. Phillips Club and visited me and we had the opportunity to catch up on her life.  Mattea was back working in Grand Rapids, while completing her high school diploma and planning to attend Jackson State College in Mississippi. 

One of my favorite things about my job is reconnecting with young people who have been to the Club. Mattea is a success story because at an adverse time in her life, she kept on going and trying her best. I am grateful that the Boys & Girls Club was her safe haven for her and her sisters. I am so proud of Mattea, and am looking forward to what is next for her.

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It’s 3 o’clock and Jourale has just arrived. He’s the first kid in the building, and he’ll probably be the last one to leave. After dropping off his stuff with the staff at the door, he heads to the gym. He picks up a basketball and gets ready for his first jump shot of the day. He squares up, grips the ball, and launches. The ball soars with the impossibly high arc that is his signature and falls in the net with a swoosh. He smiles. It’s going to be a good day.

In a building full of talented and unique children, Jourale stands out. Already at 13, he carries himself with confidence, and, to our staff’s satisfaction, is always open to trying new things. It’s this willingness to stand out that is the hallmark of his leadership. His courage to be different shows our other members the value in new experiences, and they, through his modeling, find new interests and talents.

But if it is his courage and independence that facilitates growth amongst his peers, it is his resiliency that will allow him to be successful. He’s a fearless competitor on the court, and a tough individual off of it. Life isn’t easy for any teenager, but Jourale has been placed in uniquely challenging circumstances. And although there are missteps along the way, he continues to show up, lead by example, and set new goals for himself.

He wants to be a professional basketball player, but he’s capable of so much – things he hasn’t even realized himself. That’s why we’re here – showing him his potential. Jourale’s membership highlights how important the work we do is. He been gifted with innate talents, but he just needs people in his corner to show him what he can do.

All children are vulnerable – some more than others, but we provide kids like Jourale with a safe environment, mentorship, support, and opportunity. We show them the possibilities for their future, like the Pathways program that introduces our members, Jourale among them, to professional opportunities in policing and nursing. We leverage their talents by creating programs in performing arts, STEAM, and athletics. We fill gaps in education with our literacy and math programs. But most importantly, we give them a place to find themselves as they get closer and closer to adulthood.

But we wouldn’t have been able to do this critical work for Jourale and others without contributions from people like you. Our mission to enable all our members to reach their full potential can only be achieved with continued support from our community. So for all you’ve done, and all you continue to do, we express our sincere gratitude.

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