Creating a Safety Net for Kids
As 2009 winds up, some of the big issues facing Metro Detroit have been on our collective minds. And education tops the list.
A little while back, I got a chance to chat with Alayna Bell, an alumnus of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, and Len Krichko, president and CEO of that same group. And those conversations gave me hope for the region's collective future.
Bell is a graduate of Henry Ford Academy, a charter school in Dearborn. She is now a sophomore at Oakland University, where she is majoring in art and marketing.
For six years, she attended the Dick & Sandy Dauch Campus, home of the NFL/YET Boys & Girls Club in Detroit. She calls herself “extra lucky” to be there – her mom and dad worked, so she needed somewhere to go after school.
The 19-year-old Detroit resident calls the Clubs a “safe haven” for kids of all kinds, especially those who grow up in neighborhoods where there is nothing to do after 3 p.m. except get in trouble. Bell described herself as shy when she first arrived. But within months she got to know people, learned about the many cultures that thrive in Metro Detroit and she grew more outgoing
That happens a lot at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Bell said.
“You can tell the difference between someone who has just come in and someone who's been there a while,” Bell said. “Once they get comfortable, it's a total turnaround. Any issues they bring in – all that baggage – they just fall off.”
Or there's kids like Emanuel Harris, is a 17-year-old senior at East Detroit High School. He was a runner-up for Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan (he attends the Holden Club in Detroit). While his grades are average, he just had his best report card ever. He loves music and is in a concert band at his school.
It is safe to say Bell and Harris probably would not have cultivated their love of art and music without the Boys & Girls Club. That alone is worth writing about them.
But consider this: If you haven't heard, Detroit leads the nation for high school dropouts and was one of 12 cities identified by America's Promise Alliance in 2008 as having the highest dropout rates. Groups like the Boys & Girls Clubs are changing that number, one kid at a time.
“You need to weave a complete safety net around each child,” Krichko said. “We do tutoring, homework help. We give them that extra attention. We find out what's going on in their lives (and) provide shelter from those situations.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan describes itself as “a youth development organization providing a positive environment that enables its members to become responsible, self-reliant, caring adults.”
Education and career development is one of five core program areas in which the Clubs foster positive behavior among members. The Clubs have an amazing graduation rate of 90 percent among members in southeastern Michigan (Detroit and other high schools).
The group serves about 26,000 kids annually from ages 6 to 18 (grades 1-12), at its 13 Clubs in four counties. More than half (14,000) were male and about 70 percent of its registered users are African American. Caucasian and Hispanic youth accounting for about 24 percent; the rest are Asian and Native American.
School districts – most notably Detroit Public Schools – need the support of groups like the Boys & Girls Clubs. They are open five days a week year around, Krichko said. They are a safe place guiding kids in the right direction.
“We want to recruit more teens to join our clubs. We can provide them with the mentoring and support they need to succeed,” Krichko said.