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Summer at the Club

Summer at the Club

When we think of childhood summers, what comes to mind? Swimming and frisbee at the beach, and a cookout when the sun goes down? Long days riding bikes with friends, then camping out – and ghost stories – in the backyard? For low-income kids in Worcester, the picture is a lot less rose-colored. Disadvantaged kids live in neighborhoods where alienation is normal. They might see violence regularly, in the community if not in their own or their friends’ families. Living in the heart of Worcester’s gang territories, and surrounded by the mentally ill and most of the city’s registered sex offenders, they lack safe places to play outside. Negative influences are everywhere, and the gangs seem to offer a support system and financial security, even a sense of invincibility. Joining can seem like self-defense, a no-brainer. In the summer, especially, low-income kids are often left alone for hours while their parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet. It’s fatally easy for them to succumb to peer pressure. Stay home alone, watching TV and playing X-Box, worried about every noise; or go out and be the one making noise – take back some control, for once? Which would you rather do?

That’s where the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester comes in. Summer programs at the downtown Clubhouse run for eight weeks, June 26th to August 18th, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The cost is $50/week – much less expensive than other programs in Central Mass, which average $230/week. Scholarships are available.

In 2006, when the Club had to close for the summer, to move to the new facility in Main South, the Worcester Police Department reported a 30% increase in juvenile crime. The WPD attributed it directly to youth not having a safe and educational place to go during the summer.

Simply giving disadvantaged kids a safe space to be during the long summer days would make a big difference. But the Club doesn’t stop there. Kids get free breakfast, lunch, and snacks every day. The Worcester Police Department Gang Unit partners with the Club to offer G.A.N.G. Camp (Gang Awareness for the Next Generation), which lets 300 at-risk kids enjoy a week of healthy and exciting activities that counter the lure of the gangs. Teens get intensive, one-week college prep and job readiness camps. The Club also provides summer jobs for teen members that give them skills and a crucial resume boost, as well as a salary. Other summer programs include basketball leagues, yoga, cooking classes, girls-only programs, robotics, and leadership opportunities. Hundreds of inner-city kids learn to swim at the Club, for free, every summer. Most Club kids can’t swim when they join, and can’t afford membership at other pools. Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death in children. Three kids drown in the USA every day, and nationally, almost sixty percent of minority children can’t swim. It is a crucial life skill, and kids are not safe until they’ve mastered it.

Clark University’s new intramural playing field opened in October. Club kids have had use of the field three afternoons per week during the school year, but it will be open all day, every day, all summer. The field doubles the footprint of the Harrington Clubhouse, and lets the Club offer unheard-of outdoor activities. Club staff are planning track & field and soccer programs, but also Ultimate Frisbee, kite-making and -flying contests, big & messy art projects, even a “summer Olympics.” Just having a safe place to be carefree outside – to run around and play “Red Light, Green Light” and water balloon games – will be huge for these inner-city kids.

The other great thing about summer at the Club has to do with summertime learning loss. Club kids don’t get the educational opportunities outside school that their wealthier classmates receive as a matter of course, such as a home computer to practice on. The achievement gap between rich and poor kids is growing. It’s 40% wider now than it was in 1985. Years of studies agree that TWO-THIRDS of the gap is a direct result of what happens during the summer. Low-income kids lose two months of reading and math skills in the summer months, on average, while middle-class kids make slight gains. These losses are cumulative, and poorer kids are often years behind by high school. Add this to their other obstacles and you get depression, substance abuse, “wannabe” gang behavior … and a high dropout rate.

To combat this, High Yield Learning Activities (HYLAs) are infused into every area of the Club. HYLAs are “fun with a purpose”; they get kids practicing literacy, math, science, and critical-thinking concepts hands-on, in everything they do. Each member of a sports team has to create their own “baseball card,” for instance, which uses creative writing and design. They also calculate statistics. A leadership club did a unit on cooking last summer, and used their research and computer skills to create a cookbook of healthy snacks. Drama club kids write skits and songs about their experiences. The kids in “Club Tech” learn computer programming by creating their own Lego robot. Every Club kid gets 20 hours of HYLAs every week. The kids would call it sneaky; Club staff call it keeping their academic muscles toned.

Low-income kids need safe summer programs to get and keep them on the right path. In many cases, only the Club can provide them: It is the only youth-serving agency left in the Great Brook Valley and Plumley Village housing developments. The Club provides a fun place to explore and grow, and offers a range of activities that is unmatched in Worcester. Facilities like their recording studio and swimming pool, Mac lab and industrial kitchen – and access to Clark University’s brand new outdoor playing field – let them provide programs that keeps kids learning in safety.

  • For info about the summer programs, or to register, call or e-mail the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester: 508-754-2686 or sstmartin@bgcworcester.org

  • Summer at the Harrington Clubhouse (Main South): eight weeks, June 26th - August 18th, 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., for ages 8-18. School Age Child Care program is available for ages 5-12

  • Cost: $50 per week. Scholarships are available. Also – must be a member to participate in summer programs (membership fee is $25 per year, and the child and parent/care giver must attend an orientation).

  • Summer sessions include sports, outdoor programs on the new Clark University playing field, girls-only programs, music, drama, robotics, digital movie-making, and more!

  • Free swimming lessons daily

  • Free breakfast, lunch, and snacks daily