The school bell rang an hour ago. So, what do you think is going on at the local Boys & Girls Club?
Basketball games? Raucous noise in the hallways? Dodge ball?
Bury that misconception. The youngsters, ranging from five years of age to 18, are poring over their laptops and tablets. They are catching up on homework. It’s called “Power Hour.”
Later, there will be other classes and working with mentors. And, yes, there will be time for some hoops.
The Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama serves nearly 900 children a day, including some 400 at three inner-city locations connected to public housing at Sparkman Homes, Butler Terrace and Lincoln Park.
“There’s a statistic that says the largest arrest rate of children happens between 3 p.m. and 7. Guess when we’re open? Three to 7.”
The organization is a beneficiary of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant is awarded by HUD to the City of Huntsville, which determines the entities that will receive the funds, and what amounts.
“We get (the CDBG) because we qualify for our population, income and a lot of other factors,” says Michelle Jordan, Director of Planning for the City of Huntsville.
The grant has typically been around $1.1 million a year, with slight fluctuations as the number of qualifying cities changes. As with most federal entitlement programs, there are no expectations for increases in the CDBGs; instead, there is a fear the funds will shrink even more.
According to Jordan, the City of Huntsville has made “a long-standing commitment” to the Boys & Girls Club, which receives the largest share of Huntsville’s CDBG pie. (Though there are nine club branches in North Alabama, all the CDBG funds are earmarked for the Sparkman, Butler and Lincoln branches.)
“It’s very important to what we do,” says Patrick Wynn, Chief Professional Officer/President of the Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama. “It allows us to serve the most vulnerable kids. You’re talking about 400 inner city kids, many who are without structure, without positive role models. It’s a life-saver for our organization and a life-saver for the kids.”
The CDBG funds only partly begin to fund the operation. Wynn and his organization are doing amazing and groundbreaking things with various grants and the generosity of the private sector in other fund-raising activities.
“The leadership of the City of Huntsville understands the value the Boys & Girls Club brings to the city,” says Wynn, a self-described “Club Kid” who grew up visiting the Abingdon branch. “There’s a statistic that says the largest arrest rate of children happens between 3 p.m. and 7. Guess when we’re open? Three to 7.”
The first part of that opening, once the children arrive and are provided a hot meal, is devoted to “Power Hour,” the required homework activity. They have tutorial assistance as needed.
When the Huntsville City Schools began its one-to-one digital education program, supplying tablets and laptops to all students, the Boys & Girls Club quickly reacted.
“The first thing we did was ask if we had strong enough Wifi to support those efforts” and upgrades were made, he says.
Much like on a school schedule, the kids rotate through various other activities after “Power Hour,” including programs on character, leadership, fitness and citizenship. The curriculum is based on national Boys & Girls programs.
There are even advanced activities such as money management. As Wynn says, “We’re able to teach them at a very early age some workforce development, teach them about expectations and give them career experiences with some soft skills.”
Tutors and staff at the Boys & Girls Club can have access to kids’ performances at school, they check report cards and some have direct access to school teachers on behalf of the children or parents.
And, yes, the kids have plenty of time for recreation, too.
“Sports is a major part of Boys & Girls Club,” acknowledges Wynn, a two-sport All-City selection at Huntsville High and former defensive back at Southern Miss. “One thing we know, they don’t come to the club to do their homework.
“But,” he continues, “the kids don’t come just to play basketball, either. Why they come is the relationship they have with a staff. A kid has a teacher for nine months. The Boys & Girls Club may have them for 13 years, and this becomes a major part of their lives. They can find a coach, a mentor, a big brother, a Saturday parent. They create lifelong relationships.”
Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club of North Alabama