I can remember my time as a kid at the Boys and Girls Club on 17th Street in Niagara Falls, although back then, it was just the Boys Club.
I can remember going to summer day camp, playing basketball in what seemed like the biggest gym ever, and I’ll never forget the wonderful staff who really seemed to care about us kids.
I’m sure that I didn’t have a clue just what it all would mean to me long-term. I didn’t realize how important the life lessons were at the time. I also didn’t realize that the Boys and Girls Club might be the best deal in town.
For starters – there’s a motto when it comes to the club: No child will ever be turned away. Ever. They offer scholarships to those who can’t afford it. In fact, anyone who is on free or reduced lunches at school qualifies for a free membership.
If you haven’t checked out your local Boys & Girls Club lately, now is a great time to do so. The clubs aren’t just about playing sports or after-school child-care. Not even close.
Boys & Girls Clubs have outreach programs to help those in need. They offer art classes, babysitting classes, photography contests and much more. They strive to teach good character, enhance self-esteem and build positive attitudes and behaviors.
Gary Schutrum, executive director of the East Aurora Boys & Girls Club for 30 years, said studies show kids who are a part of a Boys & Girls Club do better in school, make better choices and give back to their community more often.
“We feel we play a role in how well our kids do in school, and our kids do very well,” Schutrum said, adding it is their mission to help youth, especially those who need them most, to reach their full potential.
When talking with Schutrum, I could feel his passion for his job. He sees first-hand the way clubs help the kids. The trained staff works together to help build character through guidance.
It may seem like it's all fun and games - and the kids may feel that way - but they are learning more each day about being good citizens and staying healthy.
There are a lot of great things about the clubs, but here are five reasons why you should check out your local club.
- Many of the clubs offer reasonable membership rates (from $50 a year and up) and some are determined by household income. Scholarships are available to families facing financial hardship. No child is ever turned away for financial reasons.
- You do not have to be a member to participate in summer activities. There are small program fees for each activity. (Now is the time to sign up for summer activities.)
- Computer labs and tutoring are offered. During "Power Hour" every weekday, kids can get help with their homework.
- Programs teach kids crucial life-lessons including nutrition, communication, the importance of reading and self-esteem. There are 65 programs – so surely something for everyone.
- They are fun! Kids always have fun making new friends, learning new things and staying physically active.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of WNY serve 15,000 adolescents each day. Here's a list of the area clubs, with links to their websites.