Providing a better life and brighter future for children and teens is the ultimate goal of the Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys and Girls Club in Hunting Park. While encouraging the students to take responsibility for their education and community, employees of the club leave a lasting impression on alumni.
“The neat thing about being a staff person with the Boys and Girls Clubs is that there are a variety of people that come from all walks of life and all backgrounds and all passions,” executive programs officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, Libby Lescalleet said.
This diverse representation of adults and their walks of life shows the children and teens that, despite their differences or difficulties, there are job opportunities for them.
While the impact of a place to go after school isn’t always seen immediately, the interaction kids have with their mentors stays with them.
The 2007 Harris Survey of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America surveyed three generations of club alumni from around the country to provide a tangible report of the clubs’ impact for the public. The study included personal testimony and quantitative data.
Of the alumni surveyed, 90% said the club was “one of the best things available to them in their community” and 76% said having an adult staff member to talk to made a positive impact in their lives.
“If it’s sitting down and doing an art project or reading a story or having a heart-to-heart conversation about why it’s important to go to college, I think that all those things are really memorable,” Lescalleet said. “Often times we as adults don’t know what things are gonna stick out in their minds until 15 or 20 years later.”
For $5 a year, the club offers children a viable after school option for families operating on a tight budget. The club also offers a variety of summer programs like overnights for teens, field trips and developing each child or teen’s personal interests. Although the cost of the additional summer programs may stray from initial member fees, the group does its best to help alleviate the cost.
“We really want the fee to be more of a commitment to the Boys and Girls Club, as opposed to something that ever becomes a barrier for a family,” Lescalleet said. “It’s more important for the kids to be at the club than necessarily us generating revenue off a membership fee.”
This concept of affordable care and mentoring also struck a chord with Shayna Terrell. As the community organizing manager at the Mastery Charter Simon Gratz High School, Terrell is familiar with the financial struggles of the community. She was impressed by the low membership fee. “That’s phenomenal for a parent. It’s better to know your kid is hanging out ‘til 9 p.m. at the center than on the streets. It’s really a blessing,” she said.
The club offers an opportunity for primary and secondary educational advancement unlike any other community organization in Hunting Park. According to the Harris Survey, 90% of Boys and Girls Clubs’ alumni graduate high school and 26% of alumni are likely to earn a college degree, about the same as the general U.S. population.
As for the Nicetown club at 18th Street and Hunting Park Avenue, Lescalleet said it sees better school attendance from their students and wants to measure their efforts.
“We’re working on here in Philadelphia adding a literacy component to the programs that we’re doing, which will actually allow us to look very closely at their test scores and their reading scores as they grow through elementary school, middle school and high school,” she said.
While there are clear benefits to having this organization in the community, there are some aspects in which it falls short.
The club currently doesn’t have activities that are specific to older high school students. By the time students reach their late adolescence, they are more focused on the social aspect of their lives and getting a job.
“They can’t really offer football, basketball or cheerleading, so we’re not in direct competition with them. The kids are more inclined to join activities at school,” Terrell said.
Both Terrell and Lescalleet said they believe the Boys and Girls Club could become a sanctuary for more teens with the implementation of social activities like teen nights and dances.
Although the club offers activities that are different from the Simon Gratz High School, they work in conjunction with one another. The club and high school partner up to provide internships to students based on their interests.