Making Friends, Building Futures
by Theresa Wojtasiewicz
What does a Hindu girl in British Columbia have in common with an aboriginal boy in New Brunswick?
What does a Chinese boy in Toronto share with two children from West Africa recently settled in Ottawa?
Where do 200,000 kids of different ethnic, cultural, economic and social backgrounds living in dozens of communities across Canada go for after school activities?
If you didn’t know about “Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada”, then you need to read on.
Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada have been providing a safe, supportive place for kids for over one hundred years. The first “Boys’ Club” started up in the 1860’s in the eastern United States at the same time that something similar was being created in Great Britain.
Canada’s Boys and Girls Clubs had their beginnings in 1900 as the “Every Day Club” in Saint John, New Brunswick. Later known as the “East End Boys’ Club”, it became the first Boys’ Club that grew into the Boys and Girls Clubs we know today.
Why were Boys and Girls Clubs created?
In the beginning, they provided a place to go for children who lived in disadvantaged circumstances – as stated in the first Club’s original mission: “to give youth a chance to have some recreation and to see beyond the confines of their immediate situation”.
It is as true today as it was in 1900. Children may be disadvantaged by living in a low income household, in a remote area, or in a neighbourhood that puts them at risk; they could be recently arrived from another country, with language barriers and cultural differences that make it difficult for them to adjust to living in Canada; they could be physically and/or emotionally disabled; they could be those who have experienced bullying in school.
At Boys and Girls Clubs, children as young as three years to young adults can participate in a variety of activities and programs that are focused on them, in an environment that makes them feel at home.
Children from newcomer families can find it difficult to make friends at school, with all the pressures they face: being the ‘new kid’, language issues, problems adjusting to how things are done in a Canadian school, dealing with students and teachers who are not familiar with their culture or religion.
At a Boys and Girls Club, staff and volunteers are not only trained in the programs and activities offered by the club, they are also sensitive to the children’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They take particular care to make sure the environment is safe and friendly, that no child is excluded from any group activity and that cultural and religious differences are respected and understood by all.
For newcomer families, social and cultural differences with Canadian society can present difficulties with their children who are struggling to adjust. Your children may not want to do things the same way as it was done in your country of origin, and that can create conflict. Boys and Girls Clubs can help with that. In Winnipeg, for example, a gathering was organized among families that included grandparents, parents and children, where they discussed their feelings about what each generation wanted for the next. A Muslim family in Delta, British Columbia was reluctant to allow their daughter – who had never even been on a sleep-over at a friend’s – to go to a Boys and Girls Club youth conference in Saint John. Their concern was whether she would be respected for her religious beliefs and allowed to pray at the specified times without harassment. The Boys and Girls Club staff worked to reassure the family about their concerns, and they eventually agreed to let the girl go. Her participation in the conference resulted in the other children coming to a better understanding of her faith and her culture, while she had the opportunity to have fun by learning a couple of magic tricks and presenting them at a talent show, much to her own and others’ delight!
Children bring what they learn when they’re young into adulthood. For children in difficult or disadvantaged circumstances, how they see themselves and their relationships with others might be developed from negative influences. Boys and Girls Clubs programs give children an opportunity to build positive relationships and positive self-esteem. Programs are designed so that they meet the needs of the community the local Club serves.
Generally, there are four areas that parents are concerned with:
- Physical and emotional health
- Safety and security
- Social responsibility and involvement
Boys and Girls Clubs look after these concerns through programs that include helping children with their homework, providing facilities where sports and other activities can take place, offering healthy snacks before and after school, leadership and career development, and conflict resolution. Some clubs have centres that provide services to youth who are experiencing crises, such as homelessness or drug addiction. In addition to specific projects funded by corporate, private and government partners, Boys and Girls Clubs at the local level support requests from their members for programs that are specific to their interests.
Clubs have membership fees (usually very low – for example, the Hamilton Boys and Girls Club has an annual fee of $5 for children 12 and under) and some programs have registration fees, but the purpose of Boys and Girls Clubs is to provide access to their programs for any child who wants to participate. Local clubs will work with families for whom the fees might be beyond their means.
Right now, Boys and Girls Clubs are serving the needs of 200,000 children across the country. “We’d like to see that number expand to 500,000 and bring more clubs into more neighbourhoods,” says Eric Burton, National Program Director, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
Who helps children make friends and build futures? The answer is: Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
For more information about Boys and Girls Clubs and to find a club in your area, visit www.bgccan.com.