Club Gives our Boys and Girls a Helping Hand

Published January 28, 2017 17:20


Have you ever thought about how difficult it is for youth in today’s world? Not only are they moving from adolescence into young adulthood and experiencing all of that emotional trauma, but the journey itself can represent a significant challenge.

School, social life and parental conflict in particular can be problematic. Schools demand continuous performance while peer pressure and those natural social cliques often create additional stress.

After all, everyone wants to belong. And of course, knowing that education can be a key to success, parents are more aggressively pressuring their children to do well in school.

Adding to all this pressure, youth today are bombarded by violence on television, harassment and bullying through social media and, now, the wide availability of potent and dangerous drugs. Unfortunately, vulnerable young girls from all social strata are being pushed and/or pulled into the sex trade. Finally, youth suicide — especially among young girls in northern communities — is bordering on crisis.

Compounding this is the fact that all of these challenges are happening at the same time as our young people are struggling to understand changing social mores and conflicting political philosophies they meet every day.

At the same time, unfortunately, many of our at-risk youth do not have the family support systems to help steer them in the right direction. As a result, these youth are often more challenged than usual by academic difficulties, emotional distress, mental-health issues and elements of misbehaviour. They’re also experiencing housing and personal safety challenges.

So, what can be done to help our youth walk the so-called "straight line" to life success? What can we do to help our youth become strong citizens who will hold good jobs and contribute back to society? What can society do for those youth who are more at risk of social exclusion and marginalization?

Thankfully, our schools, our police services and our vast network of social service agencies are there to help support parents. One such social agency is celebrating a 40th anniversary.

The Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg has become one of the city of Winnipeg’s leading youth-serving agencies. The goal of the club is to help remove barriers and provide opportunities for young people to learn about being responsible, caring individuals and to discover, develop and achieve their full potential as citizens.

The club operates 11 sites citywide, offering programs and a multitude of services to help youth improve their life skills and give them direction on how to navigate their lives.

Programs include sports, recreation, and physical activity, arts and culture exploration, education and career exploration, health, awareness and life skills and youth leadership programs. Other organizations’ program costs can be a barrier for many youth and families, but all of this club’s programs are free of charge, thus removing cost as a barrier to participation.

The club not only provides services to its clients, but jobs for many. Today, it has 27 full-time and over 150 part-time employees. It also has a strong support base of almost 1,000 dedicated volunteers.

As a result, the club successfully organizes approximately 5,000 sport activities, enabling the participation of 3,500 children and youth in various activities while providing more than 100,000 healthy meals and snacks on an annual basis.

Knowing that education is a predictor of labour market success, a key goal of the club’s educational programming is to help students raise their academic grades. They also provide access to computer technology for those who do not have resources at home. More than 1,400 youth participated in the education program last year, while 12 students received scholarships to continue their education.

In addition to weekly educational support, the club offers a five-week summer education program where teacher education students from local universities are hired to act as tutors. The goal of the program is to keep learning fresh for young people, alleviating lost learning over the summer.

This program is the result of partnership with the provincial and federal governments, the United Way and the Winnipeg School Division. Tutors are exposed to real-life teaching experience in the inner city, which often leads to job offers following their graduation. The program also employs high-school mentors from the communities where it operates.

Leadership and citizenship programming consists of volunteer opportunities where participants can learn new skills, assume new responsibilities, have fun and challenge themselves. Participants learn to be camp counsellors and/or direct their interests to becoming a recreation worker. Finally, the club partners with other groups such as the Rotary Leadership Circle program to offer personal development for youth aged 10 to 14 who demonstrate leadership potential.

The Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg is also proud of its ability to create "first jobs" for young people. This is accomplished through strategic partnerships with organizations such as the city of Winnipeg. Young members of the club become part of the summer Clean Machine program, where they are involved in cleaning streets and waterways across Winnipeg.

Another innovative employment initiative is the Youth for Eco Action program. Here, inner-city youth are hired to work on sustainable living projects such as community gardens and urban agriculture practices.

The commitment of 1,000 volunteers annually equals many thousands of dollars in value for the agency.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg is committed to providing a safe, supportive place where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life.

Executive director Ron Brown is proud of the club’s many accomplishments. His personal goal is to "help find ways to make kids not only think they have a chance to be successful, but make it true so that they really do have a chance to be successful."

As the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg heads into its next 40 years I offer it my congratulations.

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