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Students find safe-haven at Boys and Girls Club

[media-credit name=”courtesy of the Boys and Girls Club” align=”alignleft” width=”300″]Boys and Girls Club[/media-credit]

Junior Vanessa Battista holds her award and poses with her father Frank Battista, sister Liliana Battista, mother Elizabeth Battista and sister Alyssa Battista.

by Amanda Hills
All teenagers needs an outlet––a trustworthy place where they can relax, be themselves and feel at home. For many students at this school, they have found that place in the John M. Barry Boys and Girls Club of Newton.
The Club is a non-profit organization that aims to give kids a safe place to hang out, as well as grow. According to its website, “The Club inspires and enables young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”
At the Club, the staff encourages the kids to always try to be the best that they can be. In order to do this, the staff strives to form a bond with the kids. “Kids stay around because of their relationship with the staff. There’s no judgement, no fear,” said Club teen director Joleane Anza. “Our number one job is to form a relationship with them.”
Freshman Maria Proia sees how special the staff to kid relationship can be. “The adults at the Club are amazing,” she said. “They act like an older brother or sister to the kids and are always there when you need them.”
Club executive director David Sellers said he feels that by developing these kinds of relationships, the kids are more likely to want to become an active participant at the Club.
He said, “I can’t make a kid do anything. They have to want to do it. The best way to do that is to form a relationship with them.”
Sellers Jr. grew up at the club, spending many of his teen years there. He knows how important it is for the adults and kids to trust one another.
“The adults are great role models. The kids interact with the staff and can look up to them. There’s always somebody to talk to,” said Sellers. He works to maintain those friendships, knowing first-hand how crucial they are.
For some, the Club has become a safe-haven. Senior Davante Maxwell remembers himself as once being a troublemaker. The Club helped him break free of that reputation and start anew, he said.
“Since I’ve been at the Boys and Girls Club, I have turned my life around,” Maxwell said.
“I used to be that kid who got into trouble and ran around causing problems. I’m now vice president of Keystone, which is our high school leadership program.
“I’ve accomplished a lot at the Club,” he added.
Maxwell was the recipient of the Male Most Progress Award in 2010 and the Unsung Hero of the Year Award in 2011. He said, “I have been recognized for my hard work at the Club.”
By distributing awards at an annual ceremony and banquet, kids are driven to want to work hard enough to earn those awards, according to Anza.
“When teens see other teens accepting their awards, the next day they want that award. It pushes them to be better than last year,” she said.
One of the Club’s objectives is for kids to step out of their comfort zones socially, according to Anza. Kids are constantly urged to talk to peers that they would not normally socialize with.
According to Sellers, a wide variety of kids come to the Club. He explains that because of this diversity, students who normally would not interact with each other end up hanging out on a regular basis.
“I’ve connected with people I wouldn’t really have talked to otherwise,” Proia noted.
Anza observed, “None of these kids would usually interact with each other. It boosts kids’ self esteem and confidence to be able to talk to other kids.”
Junior Vanessa Battista can attest to that. She said, “The Club has helped me overcome many of my insecurities.”
In addition to offering kids a social spot, Anza cites several leadership opportunities. One leadership program is Big Me––Little You. In this program, teens are paired with a younger kid from the Club. There are scheduled times for the pair to work together, whether it is on homework, an activity or playing together.
Sellers said, “The teens help with events and activities for the younger people. They find what it’s like to have kids look up to you.”
The consensus seems to be that the Boys and Girls Club changes lives and has a positive atmosphere where kids can feel safe, respected and appreciated.
According to Maxwell, “The Boys and Girls Club has made me a better person overall.”

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