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  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Girls from the Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne test their strength by hoisting training dolls at the Indiana Michigan Power training facility on Airport Expressway during a recent field trip.

  • Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette An AEP employee distributes hard hats and gloves for Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne members to try on at the Indiana Michigan Power training facility.

  • I&M training specialist Nobe Jones gives Rubye Warren, 11, a bucket ride at the I&M training facility .

Sunday, June 18, 2017 1:00 am

Club keeps youth 'engaged'

Boys & Girls introduces kids to new things

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

Quick Profile

Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne

The club provides opportunities for children in an academic and encouraging setting for children who may lack a family foundation at home through field trips, tutoring sessions, character development.

The club, which costs $15 per year for children between 5 and 18 years old, services 500 children per day and helped 3,000 children in 2016, with 2,200 being members.

Field trips offer good exposure to career options, and that's one method the Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne uses to help nurture youth to become successful adults.

Club CEO Joe Jordan uses as many community resources as possible to provide opportunities youth might not otherwise have.

“We collaborate with everybody,” Jordan said. “It's tough to imagine being something if you've never seen it. We do all types of field trips and expose the kids to all types of industry, from light industrial factories to engineering like Raytheon and Fort Wayne Metals, and those kinds of things that help kids understand things like, 'What's an engineer? What really do they do? You want to be a veterinarian, let's go there and see.' ”

The club sponsored a recent field trip for about a dozen kids to the Indiana Michigan Power training facility on Airport Express­way. The trip included bucket truck rides, an energy bike demonstration, and fleet maintenance, as well as engineers discussing their responsibilities.

“This is a program that we've been doing, exposing our kids to, 'How do power lines work? How do you connect from one house to another? What's the impact of the weather? How does that impact what's going on?' ” Jordan said.

He calls it a community approach to learning.

“It's not just sitting in the classroom reading a book. That's the fun of after-school programming, it makes learning fun,” Jordan said. “It builds on all the social skills by being in an environment that's nurturing. It builds the kid. It gives kids confidence, asking those questions they may not have ever asked.”

Jordan, a Fort Wayne native, has been CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne for nine years. He had experience in social work. Jordan said he benefited from community services when he was young and feels fortunate to be able to give back.

“I get excited about it because I know the value firsthand,” he said. “As a child, in these community centers, I still remember those words of encouragement. Field trips, camping, those things shaped my life and gave me a chance to see, 'Wow, I can do these things.' To be able to turn around and create that kind of environment for our community is a blessing.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne attracts about 500 kids per day. Jordan said the club has about 2,200 members and an additional 800 children participated last year in activities.

Summer programs in under­served communities, including lunch and educational assistance, are among the offerings, Jordan said.

“Our mission is about serving those who need it most, hooking these kids up and making sure they have resources and making sure they know there are opportunities right here in the Fort Wayne area,” he said. The youth also need to learn to “connect the dots that what they do tonight can impact them tomorrow.” 

Evelyn Chambers has three children in the club. At first, her 6-year-old son and two daughters, ages 10 and 12, weren't interested. But once they started going, they didn't want to leave.

“I had heard great things; the cost was amazing,” Chambers said. “When you have multiple kids, it's hard to put them in any summer program at a good rate. You're going to be paying a whole lot and it's not affordable.

“The day I would have to go pick up early, they would be upset because they wanted to stay,” she said. “My son loves playing when they have gym and they have fishing club that just started up. They went curling. Some of the kids that went, they really enjoyed it. They gave it a chance. They get exposed to different things.”

Chambers was eventually able to start working with the club as a program manager. She leads a group of about 35 girls in third grade.

Along with field trips, club services include tutoring and daily meals.

“If the kid's going to school for eight hours, then coming to the club, their whole day is in an academic, empowering environment and by the time they go home, they'll be ready to go to bed,” Jordan said. “We feed them a four-course meal and a snack and by the time they get home, they should be ready for bed. We're an extension of the schools but we're also an extension of the family that's working every day.”

Chambers has seen a change in the way her daughters approach academic work and attributes it to activities at the club.

“I think they're more engaged when it comes to their studies,” Chambers said. “The club pushes for that. They coincide with FWCS. If a child is struggling or something's going on, they'll notify the club and let them know what's going on. I think my kids have become more engaged because it keeps getting pushed. It's a constant reminder of what you need to get done to achieve your goals so I just see them more positive about things.”

areichel@jg.net