2016-02-11 / Front Page

Boys & Girls Club Expands Programs

By James Merolla


Every game and activity at the Boys & Girls Club is designed to be an educational tool and experience. Lego building becomes a lesson in engineering, basketball a healthy lifestyle. Left, Michael Hernandez and Jeyden Rodriguez build their creations. Right, Jayla Young aims at the basket. Every game and activity at the Boys & Girls Club is designed to be an educational tool and experience. Lego building becomes a lesson in engineering, basketball a healthy lifestyle. Left, Michael Hernandez and Jeyden Rodriguez build their creations. Right, Jayla Young aims at the basket. The Boys & Girls Club opened in Newport in 1956. Sixty years later in 2016, the club is expanding its reach to even more children ages 5 to 18.

If you think the BGC is just a gym and a pool for after-school fun, think again. Setting it apart from other organizations are its leadership and mentoring programs, like its SAT preparation courses or its partnership with top firms, including Raytheon, to involve girls in National Engineers Week activities.

The club serves 1,800 members a year, as many as 250 per day. Jen Rivera is among them.

Three years ago, Rivera, then a freshman at Rogers High School, took advantage of an opportunity amid some pots and pans on one unassuming summer day. “I didn’t know [much] about the Boys & Girls Club. I started working in the kitchen at camp [Grosvenor],” said Rivera, now a senior at Rogers. “I would help kids with homework, stuff like that. Little things.”
Rivera, 17, is all spit and polish now, a strikingly mature leader in Junior ROTC and the Boys & Girls Club of Newport County Youth of the Year. She plans to study computer science in college.


(Photo by Jack Kelly) (Photo by Jack Kelly) Rivera, 17, is all spit and polish now, a strikingly mature leader in Junior ROTC and the Boys & Girls Club of Newport County Youth of the Year. She plans to study computer science in college.

“I’m trying to get more girls into the tech field,” said Rivera. “Men try to dominate that.”

“We love Jen. She was the obvious choice in regards to her nomination to represent BGC Newport in the state Youth of the Year program. Of all our kids, Jen was exceptional in every way,” said Deb Bailey, the club’s director of program administration. “We expect great things from her.”


Jarius Neal and Yarel Fuentes-Pizzaro participants at the Boys and Girls Club after-school program, enjoy some down time over a healthy snack. 
(Photo by Jack Kelly) Jarius Neal and Yarel Fuentes-Pizzaro participants at the Boys and Girls Club after-school program, enjoy some down time over a healthy snack. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Earlier this month, the BGC expanded its North End clubhouse programs in the areas of music, dance, fine arts, healthy eating habits, cooking, adventuring, technology, character development, and more.

January saw most of these offerings fill up, launched by a new music festival and jazz concert in the gym. “That was a good way to kick it off,” said Joe Tomchak, assistant executive director. “I’m excited to see what the opportunities are for these kids going forward.”

Executive Director Joe Pratt is perhaps the living embodiment of what the club can do. Pratt ran around the halls as a boy and now is in charge of the nonprofit success story.
“I have fond early memories of the BGC and the camp. I was a BGC kid from about the age of 7 or 8. The club was always a welcome place for us after school,” said Pratt. “To this day, I have friendships that were formed at the club 40 years ago. Positive relationships with adults was an important component of club participation then, as it is now.

“I remember some of my first counselors and the staff that were in place then, the Hastings Family, Tony Ames, Glen Rose, and Rudy Borgueta. They cared about the kids and worked to make sure we had fun, learned new skills, and had opportunities we might not have received elsewhere,” he added.

“Our club today has that same welcoming environment. Forty years ago, we had kids and families coming from every neighborhood: Park Holm, Chapel Terrace, Ocean Drive, Bellevue, and Kay Street. Today, we see the same,” said Pratt. “We have families coming back to the club and enjoying high quality programs again. From Flo Harvey [basketball] to our licensed child care, swimming lessons, and academic support, there is something for everyone here.”

In December, the club was approved to expand their Kids Clubhouse licensed child care program from a capacity of 55 to 120.

“We’ve already seen a significant impact from that, moving from 55 to a current enrollment of 74 in just a few weeks,” said Pratt. “This has helped more families access our services. Our children receive daily homework assistance, STEM mentoring, and instruction in music and art. We provide snacks, meals and even transportation.”

Pratt said broader programming helps all youth reach their full potential, especially those who are most at-risk. And it also helps the club to further diversify. “We’ve seen an increase in both the number and diversity of the youth served over the last two years,” he added. “Now it is truly reflective of our entire community in Newport County.”

The central facility in downtown Newport oversees about 160 kids per day, Tomchak said, with the North End engaging an additional 40 to 50 at the Florence Gray Center on York Street.

“We want to run programs that make an impact,” said Tomchak.

Bailey highlighted one such effort, the annual “For the Love of Hip Hop” event at the end of March, bringing together many spectacular performers at Florence Gray. She also recommended the Art Club, where BGC partners with the Newport Art Museum.

“Each program is designed to offer skill-based learning over a period of time. They build on those lessons with an outcome that we know the kids will be recognized for,” said Bailey.

The club has many ways for children to express themselves creatively, through classes in subjects such as African drumming, music techniques, and ceramics. Other areas are leadership and career launches for teens, mentoring other children, social issues, and nutrition. In addition to the open gym, there are sports opportunities like biking, cross training, lacrosse, flag football, floor hockey, soccer, and baseball clinics.

Statistics bear out the club’s success. While 16 percent of high school students don’t graduate, only eight percent of BGC kids do not. Some 57 percent of alumni nationwide have said that the club saved their lives.

“These are exciting changes,” said Tomchak. “We want every child to reach his or her full potential.”

For more information, call the Central Clubhouse, 95 Church St., at 401-847-6927, the North End Clubhouse, 1 York St., at 401-847- 4592, or email dbailey@bgcnewport.org.

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