Recently, 50 students took part in volunteer orientation for the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva (BGCG), representing the maximum number of volunteers the organization can host in a semester. This relationship between HWS and the BGCG has become more formal – and more mutually beneficial – over the years. The Colleges and BGCG collaborate to help the organization meet its volunteer engagement goal by pairing collge students with youth who attend the Geneva affiliate of the national nonoprofit organization. The Boys & Girls Club of Geneva’s mission is “to empower all young people in our community, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential.”
“Since the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva opened in 1996, we have benefitted from HWS students’ involvement each semester, whether it be basic volunteerism, service learning, internships and/or on a program development and leadership level,” explains Arlene Francis, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva.
Volunteers undergo an orientation to learn more about the Boys & Girls Club and its programs, as well as understand the expectations of the commitment. They are then scheduled to “work” at either the Geneva Community Center as part of the teen program, or the Goodman Street Club, which serves kindergarden through sixth graders, on a set schedule throughout the semester.
Through the consistent commitment of student volunteers, Francis says the club has been able to maximize their program capacity and offer a number of initiatives. This includes Boys Only! Cooking, Race Dialogues, SMART Moves in North Street School classrooms, a multiyear offering of Tae Kwon Do, social media workshops, and arts programming. Additionally, HWS student volunteers have been critical in helping to build a database to celebrate the successes of BGCG alumni, and have provided instrumental support as SMART Girls and Passport to Manhood facilitators; Summer Feeding Program coordinators; Roots and Shoots mentors, drama club leaders, and assisting with the basketball league and homework.
Additionally, faculty, staff and alums of the Colleges remain involved with the BGCG as program leaders, volunteers and mentors. President Mark D. Gearan is a member of the advisory council of the Geneva Community Center; Casey Peterson, director of leadership giving, serves on the executive board, along with honorary board members Kim Jones ’14 and Aly McKnight ’15.
“As a Boys & Girls Club of America alum, past employee, and now HWS civic leader, I can’t stress enough how wonderful this organization is at cultivating cultures of mentorship,” says McKnight. “HWS students walk away from a semester of volunteering with a profound understanding of how investing time in a child or teen’s life can impact that young person positively. I often find that the kids we work with at the Club have a lasting impact on us as well. Both BGC sites in Geneva are hubs of incredible human potential. The relationship between HWS and the BGC serves both organizations, in measurable and immeasurable capacities.”
The volunteer program at the BGCG was formalized by Kelsey Lagana ’10, who served as the HWS AmeriCorps VISTA program for two years following graduation from William Smith. Shortly after the Geneva Community Center opened, Lagana worked with the Club to develop a process for recruiting, training and recognizing volunteers.
“This was a great opportunity to develop a volunteer commitment protocol that would make the organization fully compliant with federal regulations, due to the impressive number of grants they’ve received,” says Katie Flowers, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL). “One element of the AmeriCorps VISTA program is to build the capacity of nonprofit agencies, so ensuring a consistent, qualified and caring volunteer base was the priority of Kelsey’s efforts.”
CCESL administers the volunteer program from HWS’ standpoint, making sure students have completed the necessary paperwork so their skills can be matched with Club needs, arranging for transportation and matching students with a service-learning commitment with the Club. Among the weekly cohort of student volunteers are those representing classes including Urban Economics, Introduction to Sociology, and Moralty and Self-Interest.
“Our students’ learning is enhanced through these interactions with community partners like Arlene and her staff, as well as the hundreds of local youth who attend after-school programs at the BGCG,” says Flowers. “The ideals of community engaged learning become so apparent when HWS students are able to make connections between assigned reading and their experiences working alongside those they encounter and befriend.”
“I volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club because I’m a child of programs like the Boys & Girls Club. I believe programs like it can help students succeed,” says Aminata Dansoko ’15, civic leader for the BGCG. “They teach children how to advocate for themselves and to understand what they need in life – what is within their reach. The Boys & Girls Club is a safety net, a place where after a long day at school, kids can relax, play, learn, and connect with one another and with mentors.”
“Without the HWS students, the Club would experience a great loss and our members would not be able to rub shoulders with young adults who are putting steps to their life goals by attending HWS,” says Francis. “Our members are exposed to higher education simply by their day-to-day interaction with these volunteers.”
Volunteer applications and information about how to become involved with the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva, including through the upcoming Bowlathon, are available at CCESL, located on the second floor of Trinity Hall, or by calling 315-781-3825.