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Wyler BGCGC: A Safe Space for Healthy Activities with Trusted Role Models

Wyler Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati gives children a place and an opportunity to engage in healthy activities in the hours after school. This is important because otherwise, children might be left to their own devices, unsupervised on city streets. We know that Wyler Boys & Girls is making sure that every child in the neighborhood has a chance to become a productive citizen, as part of the future of tomorrow. This, of course, is the most desirable outcome for every child, everywhere, which is why we were pleased to award this fine Boys & Girls Club a small grant.

We went to Wyler Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati Education Coordinator Summer Tyler to learn more about this work:

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about your demographic? How many children do you currently serve?

Summer Tyler: The Wyler Club is only one of the clubs that are a part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati. The Wyler Club is a new Boys & Girls Club opened in Clermont County, Ohio. Located in the south-eastern region of the state, the club serves a suburban population of children, K-12th grades.

The elementary schools in this county average 40.77% of their students as eligible for free lunches. The overall poverty rate of Clermont County is 8.2%. Ten percent of the adults in our community do not have a GED or high school diploma. Caucasian comprise 93% of our area, with less than 2% being African Americans and Hispanic. Those identifying as multi-racial comprise 1.38% of this population.

We opened the Wyler Club in October 2020. We serve 20-25 children daily at this time, with 4 new children expected next week. Our summer camp program allows for 75 children. Once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, we expect to serve 100 or more children.

Kars4Kids: The Boys & Girls Club was established in 1939. Who founded your organization and why? What has changed since 1939 for the boys and girls of Cincinnati?

Summer Tyler: For over 78 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati (BGCGC) has been changing lives and building great futures for kids who need a safe and positive place to spend their most vulnerable times of the day—immediately after school and at night, when supervision is often lacking, and temptations are great. Our mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. BGCGC achieves its mission through the provision of tested, proven, and nationally recognized after-school and summer programs, Monday through Friday, year-round.

Established in 1939, BGCGC has been working with youth from disadvantaged economic, social, and family circumstances for 75 years. Our first club, the Ninth Street Boys Club, located at 518 West Ninth Street, was created by the men of the Cincinnati Rotary Club to address the alarming rise in juvenile delinquency in the city’s basin area. As urban renewal shifted the city’s population, other clubs were opened throughout the city: Wade Street Club (1941-61); Eighth & State Club (now the James J. Espy Club) opened in 1946; Olden Club, at McMicken and Main, opened in 1948; the Fleischmann Club in Avondale in 1960; and the Millvale Club in 1962 in the Millvale Housing Development. In 1970, the organization merged with the Boys Clubs of Northern Kentucky, which brought the five clubs under one organization, paving the way for services to youth in Covington and Newport. A decade later, we underwent a significant name change to Boys & Girls Clubs in 1980, as girls were accepted into common membership.

With the leadership of our board of trustees and the generous donations received through our capital campaign we were able to fund the construction of the Kenton County Club. Over twenty years later that same generosity allowed us to build the Clem & Ann Buenger Club in 1996, and rebuild the Dudley S. Taft Club in 2000. In 2015, BGCGC assumed management of three clubs in Clermont County: The Robert Williams Club in New Richmond, and shared site clubs in Amelia and Glen Este. These schools have since merged to bring the total number of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati to 11.

While our original purpose of serving at-risk children of Greater Cincinnati remains the same, we have come a long way since 1939. From the first 100 boys at the Ninth Street Club, we have now grown to serve more than 6,000 youth annually (over 750 kids per day!) in our seven sites located in Covington, Newport, and Erlanger in Kentucky; and Avondale, Price Hill, East Westwood, and West Clermont in Cincinnati.

Kars4Kids: The Boys & Girls website calls BGCGC, a “home away from home.” Why is this important? What do you do to make kids feel at home?

Summer Tyler: Many children would be latchkey children if not for the Boys & Girls Clubs. We provide a safe environment filled with programs to engage and entertain them. Our adult staff are trained in Trauma Informed Care, to provide them with safe adults who encourage, care for, and calm them when needed. They trust the staff and see responsible adult behavior modeled. Our staff encourages kids to be their authentic selves: silly, funny, or even sad and emotionally hurt.

The staff helps our members with homework. We provide a snack and dinner, and they eat together. We play board games and challenge each other in gym games. Mostly, we have fun!

Boys put a puzzle together
Boys put a puzzle together at the Wyler Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati

Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of your Graduate program? Why do kids need academic support outside of school? Isn’t school enough of an education?

Summer Tyler: All kids can benefit from some extra support with school work. We supplement what our schools are already doing, by offering enrichment activities focused around earth science or the arts, for example. Schools do not always have time to do an extended lesson on subjects that are of interest to our members.

Our Graduate program offers Power Hour, where our members can do homework with the help of staff members. Working with staff, the kids learn to lean on a trusted adult for help. Working one-on-one, they let down their guard and tell us what they really don’t understand.

For a child who is struggling in school, this trust is crucial. We can identify specific troubles with reading or math and communicate that to the teacher. We work with our schools to identify and provide specific reading and math skills to help support the teachers. The youngest children participate in BookNook, a reading application they do one-on-one with me.

Our members completed their virtual learning schoolwork at our club. This helped to support our parents during the COVID-19 crisis, as these students may not have otherwise been able to access their remote-learning curriculum.

The first-grade children had online math problems, presented as a game that required them to balance numbers using a scale. For example, 5+4 on one side and 6+3 on the other. They did not know what a scale was and did not know what balance meant. I used our STEM scale – to show that when they put in the wrong answer, the scale tips either up or down. Through experimentation they were able to find the answers.

At Wyler, our Graduate program is structured to be a fun, educational experience. This year our focus is on STEAM learning to explore, measure and investigate the world. We look through microscopes and do messy experiments. Learning about whales is not just about whale facts, or learning about plastics in the ocean, but about drawing a 65’ whale in the parking lot. Younger children can visually understand how huge these creatures are, while teens measure and calculate how much space is required to draw an animal that big. The kids who enjoy art really like to share their talents, drawing a variety of whales of all sizes.

Aliah with Microscope
Looking through a microscope at the Wyler Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, offers a glimpse into the world of science for this young lady.

Kars4Kids: Your Fit for Life program seems like a great response to the childhood obesity epidemic. Can you tell us about the program and its impact on the children you serve?

Summer Tyler: One aspect of Fit for Life is our emphasis on teaching healthy eating habits. We hold Cooking Club so that the members can make healthier snacks, by themselves, using simple recipes and ingredients. The children love to cook, even if there is no actual heat used. Cooking helps build confidence and many children are eating the ingredients they use for the first time.

Playing with kitchen items
There’s real cooking at Wyler Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati for learning about healthy eating, but there’s also play cooking. Both are important!

We have discovered that many of our children have limited physical activity in their daily lives. Every day, each group has 45 minutes in the gym during our Fit for Life program. By adding a wider variety of gym equipment, we are strengthening and toning our members’ muscles, increasing their flexibility and coordination, and adding cardiovascular activity. We have begun to move away from a sports-only model, to a more inclusive model, incorporating different ways for our kids to get fit and move their bodies. Through another grant, I was able to purchase some equipment to offer a wider variety of physical experiences. We have a ninja obstacle course, a small set of weights, mats for yoga and gymnastics, and a climbing dome.

Gym is a favorite time for all of our members at the Club. They learn new games, like Pickle Ball or Chair Soccer. This time helps with leadership skills and teaches children how to be a member of a team. Not only are they moving around more, but they are also gaining more confidence with their physical body.

We see that some members have difficulty with balance and coordination in particular. Several of our students suffer from anxiety and depression. Many lack self-regulation, which causes behavioral problems and difficulty in a school setting.

Our goal is to improve proprioception (awareness of the body’s movement) and the vestibular system (balance and spatial orientation) by adding gym equipment that targets these body functions. The equipment we have added to our gym will help address these physical, emotional and behavioral challenges. We have chosen specific equipment to also help with visual tracking for reading and to provide a way for a child to self-soothe. We use Fitness Gram, three times per year, to track our members’ fitness levels.

Gym Equipment
It may look like play, but at the Wyler Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, it is also about getting exercise.

Kars4Kids: Ready to Serve is your signature program for developing character and leadership skills. Can you talk about how this program works?

Summer Tyler: We believe that helping hands are the currency of the world. In fact, Cincinnati has historically been one of the most charitable and service-oriented cities in America. To uphold that tradition, we must plant the seed of stewardship first and foremost in our children. For that reason, we have created Ready to Serve, a program dedicated to this initiative.

Starting from the first time they enter our Clubs, we instill in our children the importance of giving back to their community. Whether planning or participating in a community cleanup, extending grace and courtesy to another individual, or engaging in a service challenge, members find themselves immersed in hands-on projects that benefit not only themselves, but also the communities in which they live.

Ready to Serve gives members a sense of self-worth, teaches character and leadership skills that extend into adulthood, and empowers them to incite positive change in their surroundings. In the end, our members become upstanding, caring, and responsible citizens with a broader worldview, equipped to serve their clubs, community, country, and—ultimately—their world.

Kars4Kids: The intro to your most recent impact report says that you offer positive alternatives to children who are “surrounded by negative influences.” Can you explain what form these negative influences take, and what positive alternatives you offer?

Summer Tyler: Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to have children from families that are fragmented by drugs, neglect or abuse. Without giving specifics, we have children whose parents are in prison, who have been removed from their parents and are in foster care or are living with relatives. Those children have witnessed drug usage; parents being arrested and even the death of a parent from drug overdoses. These types of experiences, without question, negatively affect our kids.

Ohio consistently leads the nation in regard to drug abuse. The CDC ranks the state among the top 5 across the United States in terms of the number of residents per 100,000 suffering from various drug or alcohol addictions.

The Boys & Girls Clubs have always met the needs of children who need us most. We meet that need as role models, as caring adults and as a collective who has created a safe place. Today, more than ever, our children need us as they face depression, anxiety, and rising teen suicide rates. These traumas are more a reflection of the times we live in, rather than parental neglect.

At Wyler, we tend to see more families with challenges, rather than families providing negative influences. Our families have many challenges. It is more likely that our members are living at poverty level and requiring government assistance. Single parents balance work stress with the stress of providing for their children. These parents support their children to the best of their ability, and we try to help them do that.

Kars4Kids: BGCGC programs are free of charge. How have you managed to keep afloat all these years and still manage to provide such a wide and varied range of wholesome programming for children?

Summer Tyler: We rely on grant providers, such as Kars4Kids, to help us with programming support. Major grant funding helps us pay for overhead and salaries. We have several fundraising events each year and dedicated donors who contribute year after year. We rely on our community to help us help our children, and they respond generously.

Kars4Kids: How has the pandemic affected your work?

Summer Tyler: We closed mid-March 2020 and reopened at a reduced capacity in June 2020. We went from an after-school program to a 7:30 am -5:00 pm model so that children would have a place to do their virtual school learning. More safety procedures had to be in place regarding sanitary measures, distancing, and other pandemic safety requirements. The biggest impact was that we were reduced to only 36 children per club. Many of our clubs regularly had over 100 members and were severely impacted, as we had to turn children away. It was hard on our parents and families. It was hard on us.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Wyler Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati?

Summer Tyler: We are looking forward to increasing the numbers of members soon. We plan more STEAM activities, and a play-filled Spring Break, with no educational components. Our summer program is going to be great this year as we revisit the 90’s. We hope to be able to take field trips soon. If so, we plan on swimming, hiking, and picnics and play at the parks. We have planned movie premiere parties and cookouts every Friday. We should be able to mix the different classrooms for gym challenges between the grades, trivia contests, and just a lot of kid-friendly fun. We are so lucky to have the support of the Kars4Kids in our efforts to grow and continue to serve our wonderful children, thank you!

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