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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.

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  • 1

    Often times I am prone to reminiscing about the Boys and Girls Club (I am an Alumni of the Matilda R. Wilson Club of Auburn Hills) or trying to propagate my past experiences to shed light on the problems our children are facing today- it's hard to do and eats at me every day. It's difficult to write this comment (more like an essay now) without becoming highly reflective and introspective, but when the Boys and Girls Clubs symbolizes family it's impossible to do otherwise. I feel the need to share my experiences at the Clubs because it helped determine the rest of my life.
    I've always been emotional and highly affected by the events in my life and around the world. This article about the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan caused a reflection, a rift in the part of me that has always been struggling to fight and uphold the greater good.

    When my father lost his job for doing the right thing, I was graduating fifth grade and just starting puberty (a time when insecurities and confusions made adults seemingly hostile). My family moved into a different city and school district and I believe all of us were hiding the same fear and anxiety. There were hundreds of things riddling my tiny-little world and luckily my Parent's had enough foresight to release the pressure. They were seeking (without my knowledge) a place my Sister and I could escape to.

    My Parents and I eventually arrived at the Boys and Girls Club in a beaten down Chevrolet Lumina whose peeling gray paint didn't illuminate anything. A screwdriver was the only thing allowing the car to stop and it smelt like burning oil. Luckily the Club was close enough; otherwise the car might not have made it. We walked slowly into the Boys and Girls Club and entered a different world. The silence I grew accustomed to was entirely overridden by a harmony of talking, laughing and fun. My first week was awkward and I followed closely the staff and kids I trusted. With time there was color in my life again and it was overwhelming. I found myself involved in every faucet of the Boys and Girls Club and I soaked it up like a sponge:

    Service Clubs like Torch Club and Keystone focused on Leadership.

    The Junior Staff program cultivated an early knowledge about resumes, interviews and brought the real life experience of having a job.

    Homework help, fine arts, photography and other programs brought a well-rounded experience only the Boys and Girls Clubs can offer.

    The art room instructor allowed me to job shadow him as a DJ at Oakland University and because of that I graduated from the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts. I've worked at the Club for over 5 years professionally because of my experiences. When I was ready to move away from home those at the Club promoted my decision. I moved to Marquette, Michigan and had a career in small market radio. I've taken classes and NMU and OCC and found myself learning to design websites and in-turn teaching Club members the same skills. The Boys and Girls Club offers a family of support and illuminates the parts of life that are truly important.

  • 2

    [...] since we all want to protect our children , I want all my fellow NFL Lions fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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