Grenville Baker Celebrates Its College Prep Graduates

The Class of 2020 was exceptional, and our high school seniors left their mark as positive role models for younger Club members. Most teens in this group joined theClubas small children,andover their elementary and middle school years, benefitted from Homework Help and having a safe place to learn and to have fun.  

As they enteredhigh school,theyparticipated inour community service clubs, physical fitness, and cultural arts programs. Along the way, they developed as individuals,strengtheningtheir character, their bodies, and their academic performance.This group of teens were also fully immersed inGrenville Baker’s College Prepprogram, which includedSAT classes, college visits and fairs — as well asassistance with applications, financial aid forms, and interviews. With many ofthe Club’sstudents being the firstonesin their families to consider attending a university, many looked totheClub to guide them through the entire admissions process and beyond.  

After all their commitment and hard work, we couldn’t let this amazing class of 2020 begin the next chapter of their lives without a proper Grenville Baker send off!  

Because of COVID 19, we held our virtual College Signing Day Celebration by Zoom at the end of May. Executive Director Ramon Reyes began the celebration by congratulating our graduates.  His remarks about how proud we were for our kids was echoed by our Teen Director Stephanie Urio, who has worked tirelessly with each senior, helping them to expand their horizons and to realize the dream of a college degree.  

Past Keystone President and Youth of the Year Andres Cisneros spoke to the graduates about his experience in college and how the Club helped him to get there and succeed after high school. In fact, he also praised Teen Director Urio for providing helpful advice when he needed it while at Loyola, where he just finished his junior year as a communications major. Andres affectionately reported that Urio was only a phone call away and always ready to help (Andres has made the Club proud. A natural leader and a tireless volunteer, it is no surprise that Andres has been elected President of three different volunteer clubs while working as an RA and at a part-time job at Loyola.) 

During the ceremony, our 2020 graduates shared their choice of major and future career plans including entrepreneurship, film, physician’s assistant, technology and the everpopular “undecided.” The college choicesofthis year’s graduation classincludedHofstra University, Ithaca College, Nassau Community College, SUNY Buffalo, and SUNY Cortland. Board member and past President Nassau County District Court Judge Colin O’Donnell also congratulated the group and announced the award of $23,000 in scholarships. Theevent ended with a virtual round of applause acknowledgingthe hard work and dedication thatbrought these teens to this happy occasion. 

Grenville Baker is grateful for the grants received fromLong Island Community Foundation, Nassau County Bar AssociationWE CARE Fund, New York Community Bank Foundation, and Charles Schwab Foundation to support our College Prep program, in addition to the generous gifts from individual donors in our community. Their generosity made all this possible, ensuring a brighter future and helping to make the dream of college come true for so many. 

Opening Doors for a Brighter Future

In mid 2019, Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club began construction on a bold project to expand and improve our Clubhouse to provide a diverse mix of recreational and educational spaces that is both inviting and fosters the wellness and success of all kids. In fact, in conceptualizing our renovation, our architect, builders, staff, and young members all weighed in on the kinds of settings and design elements that excite kids, nurture positive social and educational interactions, and encourage continued Club involvement over time. As we progress on our construction project, the excitement is growing, and our projected completion date of January 2021 couldn’t come at a more opportune time. With the COVID shutdown and all it has meant for our children and teens, the need for our programs has never been greater. 

Before the “pause, we had made substantial progress on the Project, though much of it was structural andnot always visible from the street. All concrete slabs had been poured and all structural steel and foundation work completed. Retaining walls, storm drains, and leaching pools were put in place and the new septic system, underground piping, and upgraded gas and electric had been installed. Mechanical, sprinkler and fire alarm systems were installed. The exterior work had begun on the front and rear additions and the framing of interior walls was in progress.  

Since returning to work, our crew has completed the framing for the 8,000 sq. ft. rear addition and the 1,000 sq. ft. front addition. They have roughed in the interior electrical and plumbing. The new HVAC unit and the ductwork have been installed. The interior framing and sheetrock have begun. Excavation of the new parking lot is under way.   

Therenovated clubhouse will incorporate natural light, sustainable materials and an inviting aesthetic to create a welcoming space for our community’s children.But beyond the newness of steel beams and safety features is the promise of new possibilities for our kids. Our modern facility will provide traditional and non-traditional learning spacesand multi-purpose facilities for recreation, athletics, gathering and play. There will be a dedicated space for the youngest members, studios for art and dance, a public meeting room,andnew teenand tweencentersfor middle and high school students.There will be tutoring and quiet learning spaces, digital media and technology labs, dining and gathering spaces, and a teaching kitchen. Ultimately, there will be a special place for everyone.  

Curious about what’s happening next? You need not remain an onlooker to our construction site. In fact, we are eager to share our vision with you and invite you to schedule a “hard hat tour.” Contact Ray Reyes at (516) 759-5437 x 217 orrreyes@gbbgc.org. 

A Lesson in Business With A Side of Buffalo Wild Wings: A Delicious Lesson in Financial Literacy.

Thanks in part to a generous grant from the Charles Schwab Foundation, each year Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club is able to offer its Money Matters program, which teaches teens how to manage a checking account,create a budget,and save for their future. We know that these basic money management skills give our kids the practical foundation they need to reach their full potential and to achieve their dreams at college and beyond.   

Over the past year, our teens learned about topics that ranged from the pitfalls of credit card debt, to the benefits of healthypersonal credit scores, to what it’s like to own a business. We even covered how to apply for financial aid for college (for teens and their parents). Our program also included live presentations from volunteers from the business world who came to the Club to talk to the kids about the cumulative impact of their spending habits and the positive benefits of saving and fiscal responsibility. 

One of the highlights of this years Money Matters program (before the COVID shutdown) was a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings in Hicksville. The General Manager, Kevin Green, spent valuable time with the kids to talk to them about general business operations, managing staff, and the difference between managing a franchise and a privatelyowned business. It was an informative trip that taught our members a lot about business in an interactive, engaging (and delicious) way.  

Despite the recent months of taking our Money Matters curriculum virtual, the kids continued to learn valuable lessons. One of our participants, Anthony, remarked that, “The pandemic and its fallout made me really want to save and to learn about how to manage my money. It’s scary but it is also motivating.  

We have always known that financial literacy not only builds confidence in kids, but also fosters independence for the long term. 

And this year, we had further affirmation of the value of this program. Just a few weeks ago, we learned that one our teens in the program who is heading off to college in the fall, Jimmy Mejia (who is also our 2020 Youth of the Year!), was awarded a Money Matters Scholarship by the Charles Schwab Foundation. From a large pool of Boys and Girls Club of America applicants from around the country, Jimmy is one of only 11 teens to win this prestigious award!  In accepting this honor, Jimmy was given a chance to showcase much of what he had learned in the program, sharing with representatives of the Foundation all he knew about Roth IRAs and 401Ks! 

We are so proud to know that Jimmy has many of the tools he will need to manage his finances responsibly… and based on his conversations with the Foundation, it seems like he might even be ready to start saving for his retirement!

Purpose. Strength. Pride. Our Teens, Keystone and the Community

Since the beginning of the quarantine, our Teen Director, Stephanie Urio, has stayed in touch with our teens on a regular basis, calling to check on their physical and emotional well-being. The teens have shared their sadness about missing friends, school, the Club, and all the traditional spring events that were cancelled. Despite these challenges, Stephanie was pleasantly surprised by their resilience as a group and the strong desire they expressed to keep their Keystone Club going, improvising, and finding safe solutions to achieve their goals.   

Zooming in to Kids’ Well-Being 

Keystone began the month of April with their first virtual Zoom meeting. They were happy to see each other and excited about the prospects of moving forward with their plans. To start the meeting, Stephanie invited a special guest speaker from the Long Island Crisis Center. “Before we could effectively help others, I explained to the members, it was important to make sure we were all feeling strong and getting help ourselves,” said Stephanie. The guest speaker started with an emotional check in, comforting the members and offering positive coping skills to use in life and, particularly, in a time of crisis. The members were fully engaged, asking questions and expressing their thanks. It proved to be a great way to kick off virtual Keystone and to keep the members connected.  

Earth Day Celebration 

For their first project during our “shut down, the teens partnered with the North Shore Land Alliance to celebrate Earth Day. The idea was for our teens to learn about the environment and how to preserve it, while having fun. Alliance representative Jane Jackson suggested several local preserves that were still open for walks and taught the teens to identify local wildlife and native plants, while discussing ways to practice conservation at home throughout the year. The members enjoyed an Earth Day scavenger hunt designed to get them outside, experiencing nature, and taking pictures of everything from litter (bad!) to flowers (good!). The animals seemed to be the hardest thing to find, proving reluctant to show themselves or to be part of the celebration. The teens persevered and the scavenger hunt was a hit. The winners of the competition were awarded with a pizza delivery to their house.   

Helping Families in Need 

Later in April, the teens held a successfulvirtual Bingo Fundraiser. Originally planned to support their trip to the Keystone Conference, the fundraiser was converted to a virtual event to help feed local families and children in need during the crisis. The members planned and advertised the event. They invited staff, alumni, and their peers. One silver lining was that some people who wouldn’t normally have been able to participate were able to log on and play. Nicole Luengas, a former Keystone member, supported the current members by playing from her dorm room at SUNY Buffalo.  After some lively competition, the event raised $255 and proved to be a positive lesson in turning disappointment into something great, all for a good cause. 

Lessons in Emotional Wellness & Paying it Forward 

Each year the Club completes a National Keystone project and this year the call to action focused on Emotional Wellness. Keystone Clubs across the country were charged with working to support their peers and to help them develop coping skills. The theme was particularly apt during the pandemic. The teens began the project in February, opting to create a PSA to let teens know that they are not alone and that it is okay to seek help. The members started the project in February, adapting as COVID limited their options and reframed the narrative. The script had to be updated to reflect the new reality of social distancing and members filmed their individual segments at home. Anthony Aguilar added the voiceover and Joe Valli wrote and performed the original piano music for the background.  Everything was submitted to Jimmy Mejia who edited and spliced all the pieces together.

In early May their PSA was completed with the hope of reaching other teens who are struggling, encouraging them to call the Long Island Crisis Center.  

May and June brought new chances to serve their community. For Memorial Day, our Keystone Club found a way to honor those who have gave all for our country by writing thoughtful messages and placing flags in front of the Club. It was a beautiful expression of thanks. 

In June, Keystone ran a food drive on two Thursdays to collect supplies for NOSH, a local organization that serves local families in need. Keystone also participated in a Cycling for Change Freedom Ride fundraiser. In the face of COVID, their annual bike race was adapted to include stationary bikes, running, and trail biking, all to raise funds to help end human trafficking and exploitation in the world. We look forward to following the good works of our Keystone Club throughout the year.