Charlestown

Charlestown Boys & Girls Club changing with the times
By Mike Barresi

 

A young kid reads the plague outside the clubhouse, circa 1917

“Enter, within is opportunity. Come ye men and women of tomorrow and embrace it. Here is an open doorway to success and you are welcome. Enter.”

So reads the plaque that hangs outside the Keane Children’s Center at 15 Green St. in Charlestown, right next to the library.

The plaque itself is new, but the words date back to 1917. They are words that kids for generations have read as they enter the Boys & Girls Club of Charlestown.

If the words have not changed, much else has over the decades.

In 1893, carpentry, printing and painting were the core programs taught at the club. Today, in place of carpentry, computer skills are taught. According to the club’s Web site, its mission is “to enable low-income children to become ‘fluent’ in the use of technology.”

Design workshops have replaced printing and workshops on digital photography have taken the place of painting, although art is still an integral part of club life.

President & CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston Linda Whitlock

Beginning six or seven years ago, the Boys & Girls Clubs began to implement technology programs, said Linda Whitlock, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston.

“We realized that technology was changing the way all of us did our work,” she said. “The way everyone communicates with one another.”

But not only have the classes changed at the Charlestown club. So have the students taking them. When the club was founded, all its members were boys.

And as recently as 10 years ago, nearly all its members were white, a reflection of a largely Irish, working-class community that gained infamy 30 years ago for its deeply ingrained resistance to forced school busing in Boston.

Today, however, the complexion of Charlestown has changed, and the complexion of the Boys & Girls Club has changed even more.

Of the 600 kids ages 6 to 18 the club serves, 36 are percent white, 54 percent African American and 8 percent Latino.

Jenny Atkinson, director of the Boys & Girls Club of Charlestown, said that a large part of Charlestown’s noticeable increase in diversity can be linked to the Boston Housing Authority and the integration of the housing units it oversees about a decade ago.

An overview reveals that 70 percent of the children who are members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston come from families that make less than $37.500 per year

The economic challenge faced by Charlestown’s often-strapped residents is color blind. But the task of teaching mutual respect and offering hope to kids in a community in which a quarter of the 7,341 households earn less than $20,000 a year can be challenging.

“Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston has always been about serving young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances,” Whitlock said on the Boys & Girls Club of Boston Web site. “It’s no coincidence we deliberately bring advantages to youth as we have become engaged citizens and responsible adults.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston has always been about serving young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances” –Linda Whitlock

Who is poor and who isn’t doesn’t get discussed at the Boys and Girls Club. But the club’s top officials know that nearly seven in 10 of their members come from families with incomes below the poverty line.

The first line of defense, says Atkinson, who came to Boston after serving as the national director of education and the arts in Atlanta, is helping students learn in an atmosphere of self-respect and mutual respect.

“Teachers may call and say that one particular student may need extra help in a subject,” she said. But any kid can get one-on-one tutoring every week from volunteers. The same kid will get the same tutor, week in and week out, in order to create a structured, responsive learning environment, Atkinson said.

Although the club doesn’t check with the schools to find out how each member is doing in their classes, the educational department is in constant contact with the schools to see if a student may need special attention.

Still, Atkinson said she doesn’t want the club to feel like school. She wants it to be a place where the kids can ask questions they didn’t ask in class, to try things they don’t try in school and to take part in projects their school may not offer.

And if a parent pays a little more per year, there is a Friendship Club, where licensed professionals tutor and guide about 30 kids throughout the year.

Next: An example of the club's success

Inside this story:

1. An example of the club's success
2. Fundraising and renovations
3. Inside the computer clubhouse
4. Obstacles and goals of the clubhouse

 

 

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