Entering the world of the Boys & Girls Club of Brockton is stepping into a whirlwind of activity. There are kids everywhere – on the basketball courts, in the teen lounge, in the game rooms, in the art class, in girls’ groups and boys’ groups – and it is loud. All engaged both with each other and with the staff. But what really struck me was that every kid seemed happy.
The Boys & Girls Club of Brockton is clearly a haven for kids in this city. The center serves about 800 kids a year and its average daily attendance is 200. During the school year, the Club provides afterschool programs, including dinner, and in the summer the program runs the full day with breakfast and lunch.
Brockton is home to a diverse population and it shows in these kids. Brockton also struggles with the issues of many inner city neighborhoods, such as poverty, drugs and gangs, and Sheila Greene Gaudet, the executive director of this Club told me they are trying to combat these forces with additional programs like “Brockton after dark” that run every evening for teens and midnight basketball games (actually its 10 PM to midnight) once a week. But most of all they are trying to provide an positive interactive alternative for the neighborhood.
This is one of those organizations that puts every one of its dollars to use. Sheila told me that no kid ever gets turned away. The Club received $42,500 in stimulus funds which it is using to run an art program and an information technology program.
“Stimulus makes a huge difference in programs we can offer our kids,” Shelia told me as I watched the kids race into the information technology program classroom, quickly claiming a computer, eager to learn tech skills and have some fun. Danny Dacruz, the teacher hired to run this program (and a recent graduate of UMass Dartmouth) told me he introduces the kids to business sites and teaches them applications like Power Point and Publisher, all in the guise of showing them a good time. These are skills that will stay with these kids.
One of the counselors I met was Chris Policard. Chris actually came over to me, gave me a hearty handshake and told me he plans on going into business as a profession. It was only later that I learned that just a few years ago, Chris had spent some time in jail and came to the Boys & Girls Club as part of his community service. (He requested it because he had spent some time there as a younger teen.) Sheila told me they were thrilled with Chris’ work and the fact that he is a role model for the kids there. He continued volunteering at the Club even after he finished his community service and eventually, he was offered a full time job there. He is also finishing up his high school diploma through a program at Massasoit community College.
Chris’ story typifies all that is right with these social service programs. It gives these kids a safety net and catches them before they fall all the way down. I’m glad stimulus played a part in that.