The Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGC) dates back to 1860, when four women from Connecticut wanted to help boys have a positive alternative to roaming the streets. The women organized the first club, “With character development as the cornerstone of the experience, the Club focused on capturing boys’ interests, improving their behavior and increasing their personal expectations and goals.” In 1906, several independent Boys’ Clubs came together in Boston and formed a national organization, which they called the Federated Boys’ Clubs. In 1931 the club was renamed Boys’ Clubs of America, and in 1956, they celebrated their 50th anniversary and received a U.S. Congressional Charter. In 1990, they recognized that girls were also part of their cause, and again renamed the club the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. *
Mission: To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
Vision: Provide a world-class Club Experience that assures success is within reach of every young person who enters our doors, with all members on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character and citizenship, and living a healthy lifestyle.
According to Wikipedia, “As of 2010, there are over 4,000 autonomous local clubs, which are affiliates of the national organization. In total these clubs serve more than four million boys and girls. Clubs can be found in all 50 states, as well as locations in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and US military bases.” The BGC boasts an impressive list of alumni that range from pro-athletes, accomplished business leaders, Olympians, and award-winning actors, as well as everyday people, who thrived and benefited through their relationship with the Club and have returned to give back to the community.
Here on Bainbridge Island, our BGC proudly has three of those alumni in leadership roles. Operations Director, Cat Thompson, grew up in Nogales, Arizona, where she attended the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz County. “My first job was working at the Club as an assistant to the staff and I learned that I enjoyed working with kids,” she said. After high school, she moved to Washington to attend college, earning a degree in Child & Family Services. She went on to work with a Domestic Violence Shelter, Emergency Youth Shelter and Foster youth before moving to Kitsap County and coming to work for the Boys & Girls Club of Bainbridge Island. “I saw the job posting and remembered how much the Club did for me growing up and all the fun and friendships I have from being a member and thought ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do it all again’. Six years later I am still here playing games, making slime and having fun.”
For Shadow Maine, the BI Club’s Teen Director, the relationship started in middle school, when he joined the Bainbridge Island Club. “It was a scary time for me because I had just changed school districts and didn’t know anyone,” Shadow explained. “As time went by, I got the chance to go on amazing field trips, play tons of games and made many new friends.” After graduating high school, Shadow went on to college to get his teaching degree and during his summer and winter breaks he came back to work at the Club. “Ten years later and I am still here, the Club was a place that made me feel welcome and like I belonged and I do my best to help others share that same experience I had growing up.”
Program Director Joshua Herrera grew up in Kitsap County, and although he only spent one week at the Kingston BGC, he has fond memories of the experience, and what the club had to offer. His deepest love was baseball, but as he continued to play throughout his school years, he realized he wasn’t getting the kind of support that the coaches and adults in his life promised to provide. “That made me want to take my personal experiences and find a way where I could assist the next generation in getting to the place they want to be and get that help from a trusted adult that I never received,” Joshua said. He went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ottawa University in Kansas, and returned to the Kitsap area after graduation with his (now) wife, Melissa. When an opportunity arose to apply for the Youth Development Professional position at the Bainbridge BGC, he jumped at it, “It’s been six years now and I haven’t had a bad day at work when the children are present and this opportunity has led me into a place where I can help the younger generation grow and find their own successes.”
Youth Development Professional, Michelle Anschell, who oversees the art room and assists in cooking classes joined the staff in part, because of the benefits and growth she saw in her own child as a Club member.
Our Club—which is affiliated with the King County BGC due to the financial needs of the charter—started small in the basement of St. Barnabas Church on Wyatt Way and then moved to the Aquatic Center before relocating to their current facility on Coppertop Loop NE during the 2013/14 school year. Today they have 70 K-4th graders and 15 5th-12th graders in attendance each week, and an overall membership of 250 kids. The staff, with the addition of five Youth Development Specialists (three of which are BGC Keystone Club alumni), dedicate their time and expertise to foster the emotional and educational growth of our island youth.
When you enter the facility on Coppertop Loop you’re greeted with a wide expansive space, with high ceilings and steel beams, the beams, at least at the reception area, are covered in magnets from all sorts of places, it’s a fun montage that I’m told just sort of snowballed into something all the kids love contributing to (and they welcome fun magnets from anyone).
The main area consists of several tables and chairs for the kids to embark upon any number of activities and programs, such as Academic Support designed to ensure that all Club members graduate from high school on time and are ready for post-secondary education, they also offer STEM programs, a Healthy Lifestyles program, which focuses on positive and healthy behaviors and setting personal goals so the members can grow into self-sufficient adults. They have an Arts program that includes photography, performing arts and self-expression, and their Leadership & Character programs, which assist youth in becoming responsible, develop good character, and acquire skills to participate civically. In addition, they provide College & Workforce Readiness for their members.
The Club also participates in nationally recognized programs, some of which fall under Leadership & Character, such as the Keystone Club for ages 14-18 and the Torch Club for ages 11-13. Per the BGC website, the Keystone Club is a unique program that “…provides leadership development opportunities for youth to participate in activities, both in and out of the Club, in three focus areas: academic success, career preparation and community service. With the guidance of an adult advisor, Keystone Clubs aim to positively impact teens, their Club and local communities.” As Joshua explained, the Keystone Club has been very popular, and the members fundraise so they can attend the national annual conference each year, where they meet kids from around the country (and world), and build relationships with a diverse group of people they wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to connect with. Joshua (proudly) shared that one BI member was even selected to be a Brand Ambassador a few years back.
The BGC website describes the Torch Clubs as “chartered, small-group leadership and service clubs for boys and girls ages 11 to 13. A Torch Club is a powerful vehicle that helps Club staff meet the special character development needs of younger adolescents at a critical stage in their life.”
Their Smart Girls and Wise Guys clubs focus on mentorship, fostering emotional and growth development and the positives of getting through the middle and high school years.
But, with each group mentioned above, the BGC offers much more, ranging from year-round athletic programs—which focus on positive, fun, activities that help kids and teens develop a healthy, active lifestyle—to their affordable summer programs for all youth, where kids can attend specialized summer day camps and dive into topics including the arts, sports, science, exploration, leadership, and more. As noted on the BGC website, “With hundreds of programs, you can find one that’s right for you. Our innovative programs are designed to empower youth to excel in school, build character and leadership skills, and lead healthy, productive lives.”
However, the programs are only as good as the leadership that provides them, and its clear when you meet the Bainbridge team, that they love what they do and are proud of the kids they mentor. Joshua shared some of his kids’ accomplishments, such as the successful partnership with Apple, where the Keystone kids worked collaboratively to create multiple digital projects on diversity and what the Club meant to them. As Joshua emphasized, its “Their voice, their club, their community.”
As Cat told me, they never turn kids away, regaling me with the story of a kindergartner who accidently got off the bus at the BGC instead of his regular afterschool location. They welcomed the youngster, tracked down his parents (she humorously noted, the tyke only gave them his nickname, so when they called around to the schools, no one knew who he was) and when his (somewhat frantic) parents arrived, they found their little one having the time of his life. She also mentioned that BGC offers “drop-in” availability for non-members and scholarships for both afterschool and summer programs, ensuring that all island children have the opportunity to be part of the Club.
Shadow gave me a tour of the facility, which includes a variety of designated spaces outside of the main area. They offer a Learning Center, which allows kids to work on school assignments and projects in a more structured space; an Art Room, which is of course for creating art; a Quiet Room for those that just need to get away and have time to themselves; a Teen Center, complete with TVs, video games, board games, musical instruments and a space where the older kids can gather and socialize; a Community Room; a kitchen; and a space that lightly mimics a small gymnasium for the kids to enjoy physical activities when the weather is inclement.
Shadow also explained that although there are structured programs and activities, it can often be loosely based, which allows the kids to have a bit more freedom to explore and learn at their own pace. He pointed out three Charters, which were posted on the main room wall, written by the K-1st graders, 2nd graders, and 3rd-4th graders, where they’d listed out what they wanted from their peers and others in their community.
Although the Club’s mission and vision are the core tenets of the BGC, collaborating with other community organizations is important as well. BGC works closely with several organizations and groups on the island, including the BI Police Department’s Community Resource Officer, Weed Warriors and the BI Metro Parks and Recreation District (for BGC’s Nature Ninjas program), as well as other groups, such as the Rotary and Kiwanis Club of Bainbridge Island.
“The ‘K’ in Kiwanis is for kids and the Kiwanis Club of Bainbridge Island is a close partner with the Boys & Girls Club,” says Hank Keaton, Kiwanis President. “Our weekly meetings are held at the Boys & Girls Club facility, and their staff and kids also help with Kiwanis special events,” noting that Cat, is also a longstanding officer and Board member of the Bainbridge Island Kiwanis. “Our organizations work together on projects like the All Comers Track Meet, 4th of July Putt-Putt Golf, and Holiday Wreath sales, all aimed at benefiting Bainbridge Island kids and youth,” Hank continued. “Our close working relationship is a consistent reminder of our mutual goals – supporting kids and their families in our community.”
When Kiwanis needed a new meeting space, BGC was very accommodating, noted past President, Jim Copen. “Cat’s just been outstanding…and she does a really good job.” Jim also mentioned that they do what they can to support the Club, helping to facilitate repairs, pay a small rental fee for the space, and they even replaced tumbling mats in the “gymnasium” room, where they meet each week. BGC returns the favor as well, providing set up/take down assistance and serving assistance when Kiwanis hold special events. “It’s a match made in heaven.”
Although the Club has membership requirements, they do offer fun events open to the entire community, such as Kids’ Night Out and Parents Night Out where they can drop the kids for the evening.
Are you interested in supporting the Bainbridge Island Boys & Girls Club? There are several ways; donate items like teen furniture, board games, kitchen items, athletic equipment, tumbling mats, hula hoops, sidewalk chalk and art supplies and fabric. You can also volunteer for special events or join their Advisory Board to assist with fundraising.
To learn more, visit their website at: Bainbridge Island | Boys & Girls Clubs (positiveplace.org)
*Source: Our Mission & Story (bgca.org)
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