An Ordinary Afternoon that was Extraordinary

People often ask how Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club “inspires and enables all young people to realize their potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens and community leaders of tomorrow.” The answer is as complex as childhood, itself. Afterall, there are so many ways to interpret what it means to be “productive, responsible, caring and a leader” … and there are even more ways in which to accomplish these feats.

The process of growing up is not linear; it is not one or two lessons that make a person who they eventually come to be. Rather it is the collection of experiences and the presence of various role models that shape children on their unique journeys toward adulthood. With this sentiment in mind, our Club provides a wide range of experiences and positive relationships to help children learn, grow, and flourish. Indeed, our programmatic framework is based on five core areas that allow children to explore their interests, build their confidence, and develop a sense of belonging and community. These are: Character & Leadership Development, Education & Career Development, Health and Life Skills, The Arts, and Sports, Fitness and Recreation.

Oftentimes these core areas are evident through formal programs. But sometimes these values are best imparted when they are woven into simple, seemingly everyday experiences. That’s what happened on Friday, February 5th. On a sunny afternoon between snowstorms, our staff at our Bayville K-5 site felt that it was a wonderful day for a stroll along the Sound. As the weather was sunny and mild, the kids were excited to be near the water to explore and enjoy the fresh air. As they walked along the shoreline, Club staff helped the kids identify interesting objects like shells, sea glass, and fish bones.

Beyond the natural beauty, the kids also observed garbage and debris strewn about. Our staff took this opportunity to discuss the environment and how each person has a responsibility for caring for their surroundings… not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of all. The kids immediately latched on to the idea of a beach clean-up! When they had done all they could do before the sun went down, one child, Kawaun, remarked that cleaning up was not only important and productive, but also a rewarding way to “hang out with my best buds.”

What I love about a story like this is that it may seem ordinary — children enjoying time with friends, skipping rocks, and cleaning up the beach. But this experience was so much more than kids exploring the great outdoors; it was science, community service, social interactions, and physical exercise all intertwined. In this way, the story of an afternoon outing is quite extraordinary.

Once a Club Kid, Always a Club Kid

Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Rhodes

Melissa Rhodes joined Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club when she was just 8 years old. Little did she know then that belonging to the Club would come to define her life in so many ways. In fact, Melissa and her brother Rich belonged to the Club through their formative years. Melissa stayed active through middle school and high school, getting involved with Torch and Keystone Clubs, and later going on to become a summer camp CIT/Counselor (even through her college years.) 

When she was in the 10th grade, the Club profiled her in its 1994 Annual Appeal Brochure. At that time, she shared that her life goal was to “be able to raise a family with an awareness of the issues facing youth in 2000 and beyond.” 

Today, these many years later, Melissa has done just that as she now serves Grenville Baker’s Director of Programs and Professional Development. As lead architect of the Club’s many enriching, engaging and educational programs, Melissa is indeed ensuring that our whole family of 1200+ youths not only understand the issues of the 2000s, but also comprehend that they have bright futures! 

Indeed, Melissa has spent 20 years in the Boys & Girls Club movement, serving in leadership roles both regionally and nationally.  When asked why she has dedicated her life to the Boys & Girls Club she remarks, “The Club meant so much to me and my brother Rich when we were young. Our parents were separated, so my mother was essentially a single parent. The Club was initially our caregiver, but it quickly became so much more.”  

Indeed, Melissa’s own memories not only capture the long-standing traditions of the Club, but also influence how she shapes the future for our kids. Among her favorite memories was becoming a member of the Club’s Drama program in which the kids would put on two to three plays a year for the membership and families. She notes that the rehearsals and performances helped her overcome her shyness and “come out of her shell.” It’s not surprising that our Club offers a variety of performing arts opportunities today! Melissa also served as the President of the Torch and Keystone Clubs in her day, which she credits for helping her to develop strong leadership skills and commitment to community service.  

All these years later, Melissa has come full circle: serving kids just like herin the very same community, at the very same Club. She adds, “I always say that there is “magic” that happens at our Club. What a better way to pay it forward and make a living at the same time than by helping to perpetuate that magic? It is an honor to be back at the organization that I started my career at 20 years ago.”