Running programs based on education, life skills, character development and career goals has resulted in 100 percent of all local Boys & Girls Clubs members graduating from high school, according to Charles Sutton, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
“We’re running programs with a desire to measure outcomes,” said Sutton. “The three areas we decided to zero in on are education, health and life skills, and character development. We believe if we go at those with some intentional goals, we’re going to reach the measurable outcomes we desire.”
Sutton links the success of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland to what he calls “a beautiful and great relationship” with Lee University and the Bridging the Gap Mentor program which allows the clubs to tutor and mentor youths who arrive at the center as early as 6 a.m. and stay as late as 5:30 p.m. on weekdays.
“We also have goals for graduation,” said Derrick Kinsey, director of operations at the Boys & Girls clubs. “It’s basically teaching our kids to set goals for that higher level of learning so they’ll want to achieve that.”
Feature programs include the Keystone clubs for youths 14 to 18 which allows them to choose their own activities as well as plan and implement community service projects. They also have SMART Girls, a health, fitness, prevention/education and self-esteem enhancement program for girls 8 to 17 and Passport to Manhood, a program for male members 11 to 14 which teaches responsibility while reinforcing positive behavior.
According to recent statistics, in neighborhoods where there is a Boys & Girls Club, there is a 25 percent reduction in the presence of crack cocaine, a 22 percent reduction in overall drug activity and a 13 percent reduction in juvenile crime. Teen pregnancy rates are also reduced by as much as 50 percent.
The club’s Project Learn program increases overall GPA by 15 percent and results in 87 percent fewer school absences. As high as 92 percent of all children involved in after school programs avoid juvenile crime.
After the success of Maria Hernandez, the first youth in the history of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland to win State Youth of the Year and Southeast Regional Youth of the Year, local club members are more excited than ever about the future success of Cleveland’s youth and the programs that can get them there.
Hernandez, a graduate of Walker Valley High School, won $27,000 in scholarship funds through her participation in the Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year Program. She is currently a team leader and program assistant at the Painter Unit.
“When I first started coming here I was very shy. I didn’t like to do anything,” Hernandez admits. “But little by little they started telling me I had potential, that I was going to be someone. That motivated me to want to do more. To see there are people who want to help you and take the extra time to work with you helped me to get there.
“At the Painter Unit there are kids who didn’t know about the opportunities to win scholarship money. There’s a junior there who hadn’t been looking at colleges or anything. He said, ‘I saw you on the news! You got lots of money for school!’ I said, ‘Yeah! You can do it too.’ Just to see how excited he was about college was great.”
Hernandez said the Boys & Girls Clubs has given her the motivation and confidence to do what she’s doing and reach out to achieve greatness.
“Maria has definitely laid that peer pressure out there for everyone to follow her mold,” said Kinsey. “Our goal has been to teach our teens to be leaders and put them in situations to be leaders so they can multiply themselves as leaders.”
Sutton also praised the Evidence Based programs, which he said “the juvenile justice system has looked at and said we consider these programs to have a large degree of success based on studies and outcomes received.”
According to Sutton, the outcome of the Second Step Violent Prevention program is less violence and less bullying in the school system and at the Boys & Girls Clubs. Kinsey said the Blythe Unit also has a Kung-Fu school and dojo for members at no cost.
“We actually had a young man that placed in a tournament in Atlanta. He won a trouphy,” said Kinsey. “We also work with Catch Ministries and took at least 90 kids fishing this past Saturday. We fished most of the day. The kids caught large fishes, won prizes — bicycles — got free food and there were air rides. Everyone had a great time.
“We have a fishing club that many of our preteens and teens will be a part of. They’ll go fishing this Friday morning and be back at 9:30 a.m.
“We’re also partnering with the Cherokee National Forestry to go snorkeling at Lake Conasauga,” Sutton added. “But the challenge for us is to help the community to realize that the kids who need us the most are the kids in public housing where the income is less than $10,000 a year.
Sutton said there is no reason for a child to go home after school to an empty home where the chances of getting in trouble increases without adult supervision.
“The biggest challenge kids are having is after 3 o’clock, when that school bell rings,” he said. “There are 15,000 students that go to Bradley County schools. There’s probably about 12,000 kids going to an empty home — maybe more. The prime time for juvenile crime is from 3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“In particular 15-year-old white males are the ones getting into big time trouble and they need to be coming to the club. It’s our goal to get them in. We can’t make them come but we can sure try to love them in.”
With seven locations in the area, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland is succeeding in its mission to inspire and enable young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.
The seven locations are James H. Tucker Unit, 385 3rd St.; Reba M. Powers Unit, 1204 Lay St.; Cleveland State Unit; Blythe Unit, 1035 Blythe Ave.; Painter Unit, 841 11th St.; Benton Unit, 443 Clemmer Ferry Road; and Johnson Teen Center.
For further information, call 559-8299.