It takes a village to raise a child, and in Hempstead, for the last 15 years, the Boys & Girls Club has worked quietly to save one child at a time.
“We’re the best kept secret,” says Wayne Redman, executive director.
But the 250 members know what a treasure they’ve found — a safe place to play and to prosper. The not-for-profit agency addresses the desperate need for after-school and summer recreational and educational opportunities for young people. “We have gangs, truancy. The Boys & Girls Club provides an organized environment, and is an outlet to keep youth out of trouble,” says Claude Gooding, Commissioner of the Hempstead Community Development Agency.
The children of Hempstead face tough challenges each and every day. There is a lot of crime and poverty. Thirty-five percent of residents 25 and older have less than a high school education and nearly 24 percent have completed 9th grade or less. Ninety percent of students are currently eligible for Free or Reduced Lunch programs, 24 percent of families with a single head of household live below the federal poverty level. “Hempstead is the largest incorporated village in New York, but there aren’t enough jobs and not enough activities to keep our youth off the streets and out of trouble between the hours of 3-7 p.m., that’s why we’re here,” says Mr.Redman.
“We have to do our part to maximize our children’s chance of success, in an environment where youth are underperforming in schools and have to combat the strong influence of gangs, drugs, and alcohol. Fifty-sixty percent of all juvenile crime in Nassau County comes from Hempstead,” says Mr.Redman. “We want all our kids to have a plan to get through high school. Everyone may not go to college, but everyone can think about an action plan and developing a skill. We want to broaden their horizon, and show them there are options like trade schools. They need to know that there are a lot of ways to contribute, to be somebody,” says Mr.Redman.
The HBGC provides programs in three locations, Franklin and Fulton Elementary schools and the Teen Center at 40 Washington Street. There are a wide variety of activities for ages 6-17. Each day there is a Home Work Power Hour, where students can get homework help and tutoring. In addition to academics, there are programs like SMART Moves (Skills Mastery and Resistance Training), a nationally acclaimed comprehensive prevention program that helps young people resist tobacco, alcohol and other drugs and avoid premature sexual activity, through small-group activities. Programs like Baby Think It Over teach girls and boys about the consequences of teenage pregnancy on their lives and their futures and Passport to Manhood is a 14-session program that delves into substance abuse, responding to authority, fatherhood, employment and careers, among other areas. HBGC rounds out its offerings with mentoring, career/skills development,financial literacy, sports, and fun activities. The club is planning to take 40 children to Washington, D.C. for an educational visit this summer.
“The mentoring piece is critical. They need exposure to adult figures that they can trust and rely on. It gives them a strong foundation,” says Mr.Redman.
A staple in the community for 15 years, the club’s impact is tangible. “Many of the kids that come to the teen center have been through the elementary program and they continue to come because they want to,” says Mr. Redman. “Our kids want to be better. We only have four hours a day to make an impact. We want to show them how to make positive choices, to make the right choice, instead of the cool choice. In our building there are no hats, no saggy pants.”
HBGC’s reach extends to the entire family. There is a parent’s association, though, admittedly attendance at these meetings is not as large as we would like it to be, Mr. Redman is not discouraged and will continue to build bonds with parents. There are parent’s nights at the sites and networking events to introduce parents to social services agencies and other resources. Next on the outreach agenda is houses of worship.
“The HBGC is a positive force in the village,” says Mayor Wayne Hall, Sr., who grew up hanging out at the Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx.
But the organization that has provided critical care to the community, now finds itself in need of a helping hand. Two years ago the club had 450 members. Due to funding cuts from the New York State Department of Education, the HBGC lost $93,000 a year for 2010, 2011 and 2012, and has had to reduce programs across the board. At the end of last year, it was forced to close the Lakeview site which had 50 children.
“We’re seeking new donors and looking for ways to expand our resources. We can’t rely solely on the state and federal government,” says Mr.Redman.
The loss of the HBGC would be huge. “The kids and parents would be adversely affected. Parents will have to find alternatives for their children, and most don’t have the means to put them into other types of program, families are stretched already. Do we really want these kids home alone and parents not knowing what’s going on because they are at work?” asks Commissioner Gooding.
Mayor Hall says of the potential void, “I don’t know if another organization would step up. The Boys & Girls Club is a safe haven we don’t want to see go away.”