West Side Democratic Club Meeting
On Tuesday night, May 9th, we attended a meeting of the West Side Democratic Club that welcomed, as guest speakers, a few people who are involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland who impressed upon us how vital this organization to the lives of young people living in poverty.
Mr. Robert Koonce, Chief Development Officer for the Clubs, oversaw the program and started by reviewing with us such facts as the Clubs having 15 locations in Cleveland and provide after-school opportunities to perhaps 1000 youths per day total. Thus, they are open from 3pm to 7:30pm during the week (5 Clubs have Saturday hours too) and are a "safe place" for young people to go to receive food, homework assistance, and chances to take part in artistic projects, sports and recreational activities.
Ms. Myesha Crowe, the Director of the Broadway Boys and Girls Club in Slavic Village which has been in existence since 1954 and is attended by 125 young people daily, gave a testimony as to how much these Clubs meant to her as she was growing up. "You can help children," she said, "whose struggles are similar to yours."
Mr. Koonce spoke again for a moment in which he assured us that "urban poverty is real" and perhaps every 6 to 8 weeks one of the young people who regularly attends a Club either loses a family member to violence or is killed himself/herself. He then distributed interesting check lists about what people living in poverty must know to survive each day (i.e. know how to get someone out of jail, know how to use food stamps/electronic card for benefits, know how to trade and barter) as opposed to those living in middle class or wealthy familes. Accordingly to his own experience, Mr. Koonce aptly believed that that there are no easy solutions to poverty or "no pollyanna vision as to what to do" although an important ingredient just might be to expose the youngsters to and allow them to take part in creative projects. Subsequently, he then introduced Mr. Ryan Easter, the Regional Director for "Notes for Notes" which has set up shop in 17 Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the country as well as several in Cleveland.
Later, we went to the "Notes for Notes" website and learned that it is "a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing youth with completely free access to musical instruments, instruction, and recording studio environments so that music may become a profoundly positive experience in their lives."
Accordingly, Mr. Easter presented us with a moving account of what was like working with one particular young person in which he learned how important dreams and imagination are to a full life and the tremendous potential for music/the arts to serve as a springboard. Mr. Easter readily admitted that he once thought of the Clubs as a mere "after school special" but now considers them much more than that; most importantly, they are a means for young people to acquire community and friendships.
Lastly, Ms. Kristy Amy; who is a member of the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs in the Cleveland area and was recently named the "Michigan/Ohio Outstanding Board Volunteer for 2017"; spoke about her involvement in the "Soul to Sole" program which has provided 1,000 pairs of shoes and socks to Cleveland children since 2013. Helping Ms. Amy in her presentation were her young son, Tanner, and her good friend, Gail, who have worked with her on the shoes project. They all agreed that the children, who are accustomed to wearing older shoes that fit them poorly, are genuinely grateful to have something new and beautiful that actually fits them. As Tanner observed, the kids really don't care about minute details like the color of the shoes (which to us or our children would be top priority). Ms. Amy has been involved with the Boys and Girls Clubs for eight years now and it has been a very rewarding experience for her. "There are lots of great clubs," she said with a smile, "and each one of them has its own culture."
Mr. Koonce concluded the meeting by inviting us all out to the Clubs to observe what is taking place there. Even though it is easy to label these youths as "poor" or "impoverished" Mr. Koonce encouraged us to look beyond such "labels" and see them as those involved in the Clubs do which is "witty and talented young people who have a lot to give in the community."
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC