Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County
Your future employee just might be heading over to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County to enjoy activities, the arts, sports, STEM programs and learn how to write a resume and interview for a job.
For 25 years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County has offered after-school and summer programs for children 6 to 18, including programs that expose them to different occupations.
“The club is a home away from home for them, and they found out who they were because of the opportunities provided for them,” says Tim Wills, executive director and chief kid officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County.
One of the largest fundraisers for the nonprofit organization is the annual Steak & Burger Dinner/Youth of the Year Award, where the kids enjoy steak while their parents get a burger. The highlight of the event awards a scholarship (sponsored by Taco Bell) to the Youth of the Year, chosen from four finalists.
Over 800 attended this year on March 26 at the APGFCU Arena. Texas Roadhouse supplied the food and three-time gold medal track and field Olympian Gail Devers was the keynote.
Meet the finalists for Youth of the Year! And, the winner is 17-year old Chrissandra Jackson, a seven-year club member and student at Aberdeen High School.
Jordan Lester – Aberdeen
Jordan, 18, a student at Aberdeen High School, where he is on the varsity lacrosse team, has been a member for six years. He joined the club, as he wrote in an essay, “to stay safe and off of the streets. Through time I got deeper involved in the programs … I got started in the Keystone Club and the Young Leaders Summer Academy … the programs helped me become a better leader, meet new people and have a great time while doing so.”
Jordan dreams of becoming a film director. He knows that too often dreams get labeled unrealistic or unobtainable. “I want to set the example that if you want it bad enough, then it will happen. I’m coming from nothing and I have no money, but I know where I want to go and I refuse to settle for less.”
Elizabeth Jakubac – Havre de Grace
Elizabeth, 16, a student at Havre de Grace High School, plans to attend college and become a social worker in order to help others. A six-year member, she credits the club with helping her academically and socially. She had always been shy and was bullied in school.
“The staff at the club helped me to realize that what people say to me or about me isn’t true,” she wrote in an essay for the contest. Through a variety of club activities, including the Young Leaders Academy, she gained confidence, and has volunteered on community service projects and served on the student council. Grateful for the help she received with her homework, she now helps elementary students with their homework.
Ashly Rodriquez – Bel Air
Five-year club member Ashly, 15, is a student at Bel Air High School, where she plays tennis and basketball. When she joined the club in sixth grade, she lacked confidence, worried that other people were judging her, and felt isolated. Club programs like the Young Leaders Academy and Smart Girls gave her confidence, while the staff helped her whenever she struggled in school. In an essay she wrote, “The Boys & Girls Club staff taught me to be my own leader because being a leader is someone who demonstrates what’s possible.”
Chrissandra Jackson – Edgewood
Chrissandra, 17, a seven-year club member, is a student at Aberdeen High School, where she took AP Chemistry. In the summer, she attended the Global Youth Summit on the Future of Medicine in Boston. A self-described “military brat” she credits the Boys & Girls Club she belonged to in Texas with drawing her out of her shell, especially through the club’s basketball team, where she played shooting guard. But moving every four years was hard even though she was a 4.0 student, “so I was somewhat stuck in a rut when I moved to Maryland. I didn’t like my new school, I didn’t like my new home, but the Boys & Girls Club in Maryland at least gave me a place to go after school and not be so miserable,” she wrote in an essay.
The club once again anchored her life when she attended the Young Leaders Academy and regained her enthusiasm. She has helped with the club’s STEM program and is mentoring a group of young girls in the Great Futures in Science Program.
25 Years of Impact
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County started in 1990, when a group of Aberdeen teachers were concerned that kids didn’t have anything to do after school and were losing ground during the summer. Then-Mayor George Englesson and City Councilwoman Evelyn Becker studied the problem with an exploratory group that included Vi Ripken. They liked the national Boys & Girls Club model, and formed the autonomous local club in 1990, which initially met in a church basement with 40 children. The city of Aberdeen gave $10,000 for start-up funding and Peter Karas, a board member, donated land so that in 1994 the nonprofit organization could build a 13,000-square-foot club with a gym, game room, five classrooms and Head Start program.
Today, five club locations throughout the county serve 5,000 children. In addition to sites in Bel Air, Havre de Grace, Aberdeen, Edgewood, and Windsor Valley (also in Edgewood), the Boys & Girls Club of Harford County operates an eight-week summer day camp at Camp Hidden Valley, a 180-acre site in White Hall along Deer Creek, and the Aberdeen Family Swim Center. All of the club sites are next to schools, making it easy for kids to participate.
“We’ve been incredibly successful over the years,” Wills says, adding that the graduation rate for participating children is 98 percent. Since 2011, the organization has added STEM programs, giving children a chance to build an app or create with a 3-D printer.
“It’s just a safe, positive place for kids to come after school,” Wills says. But he is quick to point out that the program is not just for poor kids. “Disadvantaged is not solely about economics. Every single kid between 6 and 18 is disadvantaged – it comes in different forms. For one kid, it might mean they are not able to read by third grade. A kid who can’t play basketball may be athletically disadvantaged, and a kid who grew up in a big house might be socially disadvantaged.”
The annual membership, which is an all-inclusive $20, keeps programs affordable for families.
To keep membership affordable, the organization depends on corporate sponsors and annual fundraisers. Each spring since 1998, Vi Ripken’s Diamonds in the Rough Benefit Golf Tournament is a powerful fundraiser, held this year on June 2 at Ruggles Golf Course on APG.
Kuffed for Kids is a fundraiser that “locks up” 15 to 20 kids, who raise money to get out of jail. For the Kiss A Pig fundraiser, about 20 kids raise money all summer to earn the right to be named MVP or “most valuable pucker” and cozy up to a baby pig.
To learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County visit www.bgcharfordco.org.