The Boys & Girls Club of America is one of the country’s most venerable institutions for youth, dating back to the 19th century. As a modern organization, the group seeks to provide entertainment, assistance and guidance to young people in a variety of areas. Originally started to help keep at-risk youth off the streets in Hartford, Connecticut, the program has grown to more than 4,300 locations around the United States, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and world-wide American military bases.
In 1860, a group of concerned women in Hartford formed the club to provide a healthy and supervised alternative to young boys who often wandered city streets, causing trouble. Over the next 50 years, the idea spread throughout the East Coast, including the first club officially titled “The Boy’s Club” in New York. In 1906, the success of the various branches prompted them to create a single organization, known as the Boys Club of America.
Throughout the 20th century, the Boys Club became somewhat controversial for its exclusion of girls. Although some clubs allowed girl members, the name was not officially changed to the Boys & Girls Club of America until 1990. Currently, the membership of the club is approximately 55% male and 45% female.
The Boys & Girls Club of America supports young people with a variety of activities, groups and opportunities. Most clubs feature a gymnasium for games such as basketball, indoor soccer, and the always popular indoor wiffle ball, as well as a game room with various equipment such as pool tables and air hockey sets. Some may feature a special room for older teens, as the Boys and Girls Club welcomes members from under seven to over 18. Many offer game and sports tournaments, as well as competitions or displays for those skilled at crafts or creative arts.
The goals of the organization still include giving young people a safe and supervised environment, an especially important task as more and more families have needed to work multiple jobs and cannot be home for children. Additionally, The Boys & Girls Club encourages kids to get involved in activities, learn team skills, and associate with people they might not meet at school or in their neighborhood. Many clubs offer an after school program as well as an extended summer program, giving kids a real opportunity to make friends and be involved in the programs and services offered at the clubs.
Many credit The Boys & Girls Club with changing their direction in life or teaching them vital skills. Since 1993, Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington has worked as a spokesperson for the organization, crediting The Boys & Girls Club with positively affecting his youth. According to one survey of Boys & Girls Club alumni, 95% believed that the club was the best youth resource in their community.
To find a Boys & Girls Club in your area, check local phone books or visit the national website, www.bgca.org. While the clubs do charge a monthly or seasonal fee, some assistance may be available to families in need. Signing your child or young friend up for the club can make a positive impact on every area of their life. If you would like to support your local branch, many clubs are in need of volunteers on a daily or weekly basis.