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. 

Our Doors Were Closed… But Our Creative Minds Stayed Open Through Art 

Over the past few months, our art programming has had to adapt to the times. Thanks to the family of William Hinckley, GBBGC held a its first Virtual Art Contest in May. How fitting it was that the Hinckley family who stepped forward to sponsor the event to provide a fun way for our kids to stay positive and creative at home. After all, no one was more instrumental in developing the curriculum at our Club in its early days than our first executive director William Hinckley.   

During our “COVID shutdown,” Amanda, our art instructor, incorporated fun virtual lessons in art via Zoom with fun crafts for our kids to do at home using common household items. These creative projects have run the gamut, ranging from rocket ships to flowers.  

To encourage kids to keep participating, we created a Virtual Art Contest with the theme: “What advice would you give to someone to be safe, happy and healthy during quarantine?” The Club received 36 entries from kids ages 5 – 18 and the submissions included artwork, videos, poems, and essays. After careful consideration, an esteemed panel of judges awarded prizes to the winners in each age group. On May 21 and 22, the staff stopped by the homes of all of the winners to drop off their prizes.  

One very special presentation went to two sisters in kindergarten and third grade, who won awards in their respective age groups. Their mother Laura wrote the Club: “Thank you for making the girls feel like rock stars today! They were so excited when they found out they were winners and the front porch award presentation made it extra special.

The girls warmed everyone’s hearts by choosing to donate their winnings to NOSH, the local organization that helps feed families in need.We were happy to hear that mom and dad will be rewarding them with some ice cream for their generosity!  Thanks to you and the entire GBBGC family for all you do!” wrote Laura.The Club is such a special place and we feel so fortunate to have it in our community.   All our best to everyone.  We hope to see everyone again very soon!”  

Cycling for Change Event

Keystone Club has been a long-time supporter of Cycling for Change since its creation. So when they introduced the idea of organizing an event to help break the cycle of human trafficking the teens were happy to participate. People were invited to join in this virtual event by walking, running, or biking. Then they were instructed to post their pictures using #ihatetraffik to social media to show that they were involved from wherever they were. The teens from Grenville Baker headed to the Jones Beach Path that starts out of Cedar Creek Park to show their support. This is one of their favorite spots to go as a group and the members were glad to have the chance to go on such a nice day. Some of the members biked the five miles all the way down to the beach and others walked part of the path. They were a little winded after so much time in quarantine, but they made it to the end and back. They were very excited for water though. The members handed in money for the cause and they donated it to Cycling for Change through their website. John Cruz said, “It was nice to feel useful and do something good and feel connected to something.” John expressed the sentiments of the group overall and it was a very productive last community service project for the year.

Memorial Day

Grenville Baker and the Locust Valley CommunityMay 20, 2020 

Each year, Memorial Day is a time to count our blessings and to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Here at Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club, we are constantly reminded that one of our greatest blessings is our community. Even in the face of a pandemic, local residents have been reaching out, finding ways to work together to help those in need.

Our community has a history of coming together to solve each new challenge. Beginning with the Matinecock Neighborhood Association at the turn of the 20th Century, residents worked together to improve the roads and to establish a fire department. They went on to build the Matinecock Neighborhood House (that later became the Library) and the Locust Valley Fire House. After WWII, their sense of service moved community members to form Operation Democracy to send much needed relief to a “sister city” in France and, closer to home, to found the American Legion Howard Van Wagner Post 962 for veterans, and to build the Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club for our children.

Throughout its history, the Club has maintained this local tradition of coming together and has worked collaboratively with many of our local institutions. We partner with the Locust Valley Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, nearby schools and all our amazing volunteers. To expand the horizons of our young readers, we partner with the Locust Valley Library, where our members enjoy a reading club. When our young participants need to learn to swim, they are welcomed to the Y, our Club’s partner in the Buddy Winslow Swim Program.

In the wake of COVID-19, the Club has become a founding member of NOSH joining St. John’s Church of Lattingtown and other local groups. NOSH is a community-based organization created to provide support for the food insecure in our area. With many people losing their jobs, our community has once again come together to address a need. Concerned citizens have joined forces through NOSH to safely and responsibly deliver food where it is needed, within the parameters and guidelines prescribed by state and local authorities.

Following this example, our Club members in turn are learning to collaborate at a young age, working with other groups to give back to their community. This past month our Keystone Club helped with NOSH as well as joining our Torch Club and grade school kids to send special hand-made thank you cards to our frontline responders. In the past our service clubs have worked with the North Shore Land Alliance, Habitat for Humanity, Wounded Warriors, the Salvation Army and others.

Locust Valley is a wonderful place to grow up and to call home. In all my years living here, I have been so impressed.  Not only is our town beautiful to look at, but at its heart, it has a strong foundation of community spirit. Our children benefit from this foundation and from the outpouring of love and support the community shows in times of need.