An after-school program changed this Michigander’s life. New out-of-school grant funding will allow other students to share the success.
Like any parent, LaToya Turner of Benton Harbor wanted to provide her son, Eric, with the tools for a happy and successful life. As a single mom working multiple jobs, LaToya worried that finding after-school childcare that would enhance Eric’s growth and education would be tough to come by.
“I was a little picky about where my son went and who he was around,” LaToya said. “Trust is huge with parents.”
When her goddaughter told Eric about all the fun she was having at the local Boys & Girls Club, LaToya said she decided to look into it. She fondly remembers the first day that she and Eric, who was six at the time, walked into the Boys & Girls Club of Benton Harbor (BGCBH).
“The minute I walked him through the doors, everyone was loving and kind,” LaToya said. “So I signed him up, paid the money, got a tour, and when I came back an hour later, [Eric] was not ready to leave. He was like, ‘No, I have friends here.’”
As Eric grew, so did an interest in working out. So he joined BGCBH’s Healthy Lifestyles program, in addition to the program Passport to Manhood, where he and other young men learned to build confidence and life skills, like how to tie a tie, change a tire, and proper etiquette.
Today, Eric is a 22-year-old senior at Albion College.
“I still remember the faces of all the staff members to this day,” he said. During school breaks, he returns to BGCBH as a staff member, eager to encourage the next generation of kids.
LaToya said she believes attending BGCBH’s programming is part of the reason that Eric will soon be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. “Without a shadow of a doubt, the Boys & Girls Club played a huge role in the success of my son,” she said.
A place for all of Michigan’s kids
Children who attend OST programs, or “out-of-school time programs”—programs that run before and after the school day and over school breaks, like the Boys & Girls Club—are more likely to experience improvements in their performance at school, in their behavior, and have a higher earning potential as adults, said Erin Skene-Pratt, Executive Director of the Michigan After School Partnership.
Along with state Sens. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) and Kevin Hertel (D-St. Claire Shores), and state Rep. Jaime Churches (D-Wyandotte)—all former teachers in Michigan—Skene-Pratt joined Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December to announce that more than 67,000 students will get access to OST programs at 780 locations across the Mitten this year.
“Investing in Michigan students is an investment in our collective future,” said Sen. Hertel. “Before- and after-school programming is not simply an extension of the school day, but provides young people with invaluable opportunities to explore, learn and grow.”
“Kids in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods too often miss out on enrichment opportunities. Ironically, those programs can help them the most,” said state Rep. Kimberly Edwards (D-Eastpointe), a former social worker and now a member of the House Education Committee. “These grants are win-wins, helping close educational and after-school care gaps.”
More than 751,000 children in Michigan lack access to OST programs. What’s more, the Michigan Afterschool Partnership found a disproportionate lack of access to OST providers in Michigan’s predominately Black and low-income communities.
In an effort to minimize barriers and enable more parents to enroll their children in such critical learning programs, Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential are awarding $50 million in grant money to make them more available in Michigan.
“These programs help kids explore their interests, get extra academic support, and connect with their peers,” Whitmer said in a press release. “As a parent and as governor, I know that today’s investments will set more students up for success.”
The $50 million will be split up between 25 different organizations. The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Southwest Michigan is set to receive $5 million to use towards their OST programming across 48 sites.
“The money will be used to offer opportunities for expanding program services while being able to serve more youth,” said Kellie Rankey, Executive Director of the Michigan Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, in an email to The ‘Gander.
She said that the grants create the opportunity for new programming, too—like dance and drumming classes—and to open additional sites in Michigan communities that lack after-school options.
“Many of these sites take place right at their school, so they are easily able to transition to our program, while allowing parents to know their children are in a safe place while they are working,” she said.
Building stronger futures in Michigan
At the BGCBH youth campus, Michiganders from the age of 6 to 13 rotate through a variety of programs, including dance, drama, art, and tutoring. Power Hour—an academic program focused on helping students with homework after school—is a favorite among club members.
“I really like Power Hour because we do homework and then play games afterwards,” said club member Jayelle D., who added that over the last few years, programs like Power Hour have made a difference in her schooling. When asked if she had a least favorite subject, she proudly said, “I don’t have one.”
Sherri Ulleg, VP of Marketing & External Communications at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Southwest Michigan, said that her team has been able to collect a lot of data about how BGCBH’s programs have impacted the students who attend—who represent at least two dozen public K-12 schools in the surrounding area.
“Seventy-one percent of our kids in 5th to 12th grades think that they’re on track to graduate high school,” she said. “For us, that’s not good enough—we want 100% of our kids to know they’re going to graduate from high school with a plan to move on to the next step.”
“We know that if we can start working with kids earlier and make sure that we’re focusing on academics in a holistic way—making sure they feel safe, that they feel healthy mentally and physically—that it’s just going to help the kids go even further.”
BGCBH also offers money management, career readiness, and college prep programs at its teen center. From learning what to wear to a job interview to filling out the FAFSA to bringing in employers to talk about their careers, these after-school programs aim to teach high school-age club members skills that will help them excel after graduation.
“If they don’t know what’s available to them, they don’t know how to prepare for it,” said Ulleg. “Giving kids exposure to what’s out there—especially as quickly as careers are developing in this technological world, it’s great for them just to have an understanding of what they could do that could match their interests.”
To find a Boys & Girls Club in your area, visit mibgclub.org.
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