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Empowering the Youth of Worcester: Featuring The Boys & Girls Club and Youth Soccer League

By Kristen Bosse

No one would deny the fact that youth are the backbone of every town (and perhaps country). When there is a strong youth community and support from adults to sustain this strength, the future of the town is sure to be bright. However, how do you encourage young people to do their best? Create an environment ripe for their leadership? Ensure that they can safely experiment and succeed in developing stronger skills and confidence? Adults strive to give kids a sense of worth that will last them a lifetime, but sometimes have trouble figuring out how to do this. Two organizations in Worcester have been doing an amazing job when it comes to teaching their kids invaluable lessons that will carry them onto the next stage in life.

The Boys & Girls Club of Worcester

The mission of the Boys and Girls Club is pretty simple: to help youth, especially those who need us most, develop the qualities needed to become responsible citizens and community leaders, through caring professional staff who forge relationships with our youth members and influence their ability to succeed in life. As one of the largest youth communities in Central Massachusetts, they have continuously changed the lives of the kids in Worcester for years now.

The Club itself offers programs in the core areas of Academic Success, Healthy Habits, Leadership and Civicism, the Arts, and Family Support. The Academic Success family of programs, perhaps most popular, boast an excellent track record: 90% of regular participants (twice a week or more) consistently improve their grades by at least one full letter in at least one subject. The program itself consists of the Learning Center, which provides kids with tutoring, prep workshops for college and more, and the Power Hour, which gives students support with their homework. Both have been proven quite effective, resulting in a graduation rate that has held steady at 97% for several years. In addition, 92% of our graduates received college scholarships in 2014.

The importance of leading a healthy life is also a topic that is stressed pretty heavily with the BGC of Worcester. The staff members focus on nutrition, triple play (mind, body, and soul), and prevention. The Kid's Café provides a home cooked meal to nearly 300 children every weeknight during the school year. Many of their kids would go to bed hungry if it weren't for this facility. Triple Play is a national program that takes a holistic approach toward health, encouraging good nutrition, regular physical activity and development of character. When you teach children about this approach when they are young, you empower them to make their own healthy decisions about their body as they grow older.

The club even has an outreach program that works with the Worcester Police Gang Unit to reach out to youth ages 11-18 who are at risk of joining gangs and participating in violent activities. Case Managers in Main South and Great Brook Valley enroll these youth into programs that meet their interests, which allows us to build the relationships needed to convince them to join the programs that will meet their needs. The key is that they are connected to caring professionals who help them create structured use of their time. All of these programs together give Worcester Youth the tools to ignore bad influences and continue on their own productive path. Liz Hamilton, Assistant Executive Director over at BGC had her own words about the impact this facility has made in the community.

"Our clubhouses are in three of Worcester's most disadvantaged areas, with populations at high risk for substance abuse, targeting by gangs, and poor health outcomes. 80% of Club kids are at or below the poverty line, receiving free or reduced lunch. The link between poverty and low prospects is proved beyond doubt, but we help poor kids compete.

The Club model overcomes the belief among some of our kids that college and career-track jobs are out of their reach. Many Club kids start out convinced that they can't go to college, that they are not smart enough to make a better life for themselves, that they shouldn't even try. Kids from poor neighborhoods have a reputation for being "hard-to-reach." We have found that it is fear of failure that often prevents them from engaging in the classroom."

Youth Soccer League

The Worcester Youth Soccer League is a non-profit, all volunteer, organization established to serve soccer players at a youth level in the City of Worcester. The league itself is split into two divisions (Travel and Rec), which gives kids of all skill levels an opportunity to play for competitive reasons, or simply for fun. All involved with the league are committed to promoting soccer skills, sportsmanship, and team play in a safe and fun environment. The goal is to provide an experience that young soccer players will carry forward with them and to help them understand and appreciate the experience of working with other individuals as a unit.

The League welcomes children of either gender to participate up to the age of 10 in their recreational division, and up to the age of 16 in their travel division. It is available in Spring, Fall, and indoor in the Winter time! Similarly stated by Hamilton earlier, children in Worcester (or any town) can easily slip into bad habits. Providing a program like a Youth Soccer League gives these same children something not only constructive, but a way to meet friends that have similar interests.

"I think youth sports does quite a bit for kids. It promotes team work, increases self esteem, and ideally helps to develop the individual skills over the course of the season", states Tim Jubinville, League President. "Being part of a team whether it be as a youth, teenager or young adult is a vital skill in life. Soccer as well as other team sports helps shape this preparation."

Tim's words perfectly encompass the true essence of Youth Sports. Although it is of course something fun for kids to do, they are also learning priceless lessons for the future. Teamwork is something that will help not only with sports, but with perhaps being part of the debate team at their future high school, or the management team at their first job. Something as simple as experiencing a loss at a game can help them prepare for future hardships in their everyday lives.

DeJongh Wells, Director of Communications, also had words about the impact of a town's Youth Sports Organization.
"In this day and age where we rely heavily on technology, sports promotes verbal communication and kids are able to learn additional interpersonal skills that they're already learning at home, at school and in other sports and/or activities. Sports teach kids how to work as a team and enforce the "We're all in this together" through victory and losses. This is very important as it provides kids with skills to be respectful of their peers and embrace the differences that make us unique and great."

Both Wells and Jubinville stated that the city of Worcester is very supportive with their mission. They work closely with the Parks and Recreation department of Worcester as well as the Worcester Public Schools to utile city and school fields for practices and games. With an entire city on their side, the Youth Soccer League will no doubt continue empowering the lives of their participants for years to come.

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