Great futures start here: The Washington County Boys and Girls Club combines learning with fun

Mackenzie Moore • Jul 8, 2018 at 5:00 AM

School’s out for summer, but many guardians remain working full-time hours with grade-school children. That’s where the Boys & Girls Club steps in.

The Washington County Boys & Girls Club offers guidance to children with working parents 10 hours a day, five days a week through the summer.

The club’s unit director, Lauren Dugger, sees the Boys & Girls Club as an organization that reaches far beyond simply providing a safe setting for working parents’ children. She observes the bigger picture of the non-profit’s impact on the lives of families.

“You really just get to see from point A to point B how the club really changes lives,” Dugger said. “And it’s not just the kids’ lives — it’s the siblings’ lives, the parents’ lives, the grandparents’ lives as well. That’s what draws me in to coming every single day.

“We have parents who come in here who are just distraught because they’re working so much and don’t have anywhere for their kids to go and need to make sure they’re safe. We go from seeing these distraught parents to parents who finally find a safe place for their children to stay while they’re working.”

Children’s social anxiety might cause them to initially reject the club’s activities, but the club’s directors provide an isolated calm room to help kids cope with mental stress. The safe room features a single beanbag, relaxing toys like sand and Legos and a chair for a program director to give the anxious child company and guidance. 

“The children may be a little rebellious or high-strung at first, but then they register here and gain structure and playtime while also getting the mental health component we provide,” Dugger said. “Then they start to transform, and they become a club kid — the epitome of a club kid. And the parents begin to calm down because they know their children are safe here. They know their kids are fed, getting physical activity in and learning.”

In addition to focusing on mental health, the program aims to avoid the “summer slide,” which is a learning loss phenomenon children encounter on summer vacation from school. The academic director, Imani Johnson, scheduled learning time for the students to avoid any major learning losses and keep children updated with their grade-level learning. 

“STEM and the arts are our main focus right now,” Johnson said. “We have a team center, art room, learning center and a computer lab. For example, right now in the computer lab, the kids are learning how to code, and they’re doing that while they’re playing games.

“All the kids have an account on Stride Academy, and they get to answer academic questions in exchange for coins that they redeem to play games. So, they get excited to go to the computer lab, saying things like, ‘Ah! We get to play games!’ But at the same time, they’re learning. 

“They’re also learning how to work Google Maps, set up a Gmail account and send emails and work all Microsoft programs like Word, Powerpoint and Excel. That’s through a Syracuse University pilot program.”

The CEO and president of the Washington County Boys & Girls Club, Robin Crumley, thanked all of the club’s sponsors and partners who ensure the children have the opportunity to learn and grow. The experiences gained through the club’s partnerships with organizations like the Storytelling Center and Hands-on Museum offer children knowledge and growth that will stick with them for years to come.

“We’re all about being here when kids are out of school and providing a safe place for them to come and learn without knowing they’re learning,” Crumley said. “To register, guardians fill out an application and receive a tour of the building from one of our full-time staff so they can find out what we do every day. We make sure our structure and schedule fit with them.”

Johnson sees the Boys & Girls Club as a way to give back to her community by preparing the next generation with educational tools and, of course, hours of fun.

“You see the problems in the world,” Johnson said. “But when you’re in the non-profit world, you get to do something about it.”

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