Feeding body and soul

The Boys and Girls Club focuses on programming and food insecurity.

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Enjoying watermelon, front: M. Barbera, P. Tennant, A. Barbera; back: L. Jamieson. — Courtesy M.V. Boys & Girls Club

The Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club is going all out in serving about 700 Island youth, even while facing ongoing challenges brought on by the pandemic. While the club’s primary emphasis is on middle schoolers, they do provide experiences for kids right up through their teens.

A recent inspiring conversation with executive director Dhakir Warren ranged far and wide, and began with one of the nonprofit’s major concerns — food insecurity. A $50,000 grant from Boys and Girls Club National and $52,000 from a partnership with Point B Realty are helping to fuel their efforts to address the higher volume of need due to COVID.

The club is attacking the issue on multiple fronts, including increasing access by extending its programming to Saturdays, which offers another opportunity besides afterschool to provide snacks and food-to-go. Likewise, it’s about to fill in the gap during the February school break with a program providing grab-and-go lunches and dinners for kids who usually get their breakfast and lunch at school.

The Boys and Girls Club is also partnering with Island Grown Initiative to provide prepared meals for entire families, Monday through Friday. IGI prepares the food one day a week, and then the Boys and Girls Club fills in for the remaining four days. Likewise, the club will be subsidizing those in need of assistance in buying fresh produce through IGI’s Mobile Market. IGI provides lunches for its campers during the eight-week summer camp program, which runs from 9 am to 4 pm. 

Since the Boys and Girls Club is also concerned about families who can’t get to the club because of transportation or timing, they are aiming to purchase a passenger van to start doing direct meal deliveries.

While the money from a monthly contribution of 5 percent of sales by Dairy Queen supports general programming, more specifically the club received a $100,000 grant from Boys and Girls Club National to extend its out-of-school-time learning and academic enrichment efforts, which occur from 2:30 to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. That money, in conjunction with $10,000 from the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation, will enhance its STEAM programming for first through eighth graders. “It’s exciting,” Warren says. “We can really expand in getting kids engaged in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, and make broader connections to reading, ingenuity, and innovation.”

Its capital campaign for a new facility has been successful so far, although $2.5 to $3 million is still needed to reach the club’s $15 million goal. The club is hoping to start work in the fall. “The heart and the soul of the work we do really resides in the kids and the staff,” Warren says. “It is a real opportunity to take that new space and transfer the work that we’re doing into a facility that will expand our ability to serve more youth across the Island. It’s exciting that on the horizon we will have a facility that will support our growth in bringing in more membership and programming.”

Despite the pandemic, the club is operating its afterschool program, essentially for students first through sixth grade — about 60 to 65 youth a day. The kids have a dedicated hour of homework help and 20 to 30 minutes of reading enrichment. Depending on the day, youth can also engage in STEAM activities, workforce readiness, yoga, music and dancing, and culinary experiences — as well as sports and recreation, with the generous support of the DJ Henry Dream Fund, which provides financial support allowing youths to participate in community-based programs such as sports, performing arts, and summer programs.

In addition to the afterschool program, among other things for middle school students and older are opportunities for workforce experience, as youth development professionals, as afterschool program volunteers, or as camp counselors in the summer. These youth workers earn community service credit. And in the summer, there will be a high school career development internship program. Warren says, “It’s very critical for kids to be able to connect and build relationships with younger kids. Peer-to-peer learning opportunities are, in many respects, more impactful than with adults.”

In addition to the afterschool program, the kids participate in the club’s supplemental programs like those that include basketball skills and drills, Buddy Ball, elementary and junior high school basketball league, travel basketball league, and flag football. It is also open Saturdays when supplemental sports and recreation programming occurs between 9 am and 1 pm, and the club recently introduced a Portuguese class on Saturday mornings.

The club also has Smart Girls and Passport to Manhood programs that focus on teaching each gender about positive, healthy relationship-building, and empowering them with self-esteem and confidence. It is about to start a new effort with these programs at the Charter School, with its teachers and club staff facilitating. “This work shows how the Boys and Girls Club can really help support what’s going on in the schools, whether through partnerships or our programming at the club that can serve as a continuum of support of what’s going on in the schools,” Warren says. “The club has really made strides to refine our programming and ensure an efficient structure that promotes increased engagement among the members that we serve. We hope to continue further down that path, and that the end result will be that families who may have been reticent to send their kids to the club will come to know it is really a quality and rewarding experience that’s delivered in a safe, secure environment that is focused on having a deliberate impact on the youth that walk through the door.”

For more information, see mvbgclub.org.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for this story. Having been a part of Point B Realty’s Martha’s Vineyard Teddy Bear Suite since Wendy Harman brought the idea to life in 2011, it has been amazing to watch the evolution of the MVBGC and its rise to the challenge of feeding Island children.

    I remember hearing about the change in atmosphere when Healthy Happy Kids was introduce and free food was available to all the Club members in the After School Program. Kids were happier, more productive and all around the Club was a better place.

    Food insecurity is real and the Club is doing its best to address it. Thank you Dhakir and team!

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