After three years of delays, largely caused by the COVID pandemic, the Boys and Girls Club of St. John has finally launched its first summer program.
Led by Lorain “Miss Pat” Richards (director of St. John’s Dynamic Dancers), 25 young people gathered at the parish hall of the Lutheran Church of Nazareth in Cruz Bay for full days of activities since the end of the school year.
When the school year begins in August, the program will likely move to Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay. A school is an appropriate place, as the Boys and Girls Club is primarily an after-school program that provides tutoring, mentoring, and a structured homework environment, in addition to sports, fitness, and recreational activities.
Although the program initially targets young children, it continues to provide its members with character and leadership development, employment readiness and career exploration activities throughout their teenage years.
“We provide a home away from home where children can be supervised by caring, loving adults and grow into productive citizens,” said Jacqueline “Jackie” Brown, regional director of Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Thomas. / St. John.
Brown led the club for 20 years. She retired from a 30-year career with the Internal Revenue Bureau while still in her 40s and looking for something meaningful to do with her time. She got her wish. Now, from her office at Oswald Harris Court Housing Community in St. Thomas, she plans programs, writes grants, recruits volunteers and forms partnerships with other community organizations.
For example, in St. Thomas, club members go sailing with the St. Thomas Yacht Club, play football with youth from across the island at the West Indies School, and have story time with members. of the St. Thomas Rotary Club.
In St. John, campers take swimming lessons through the National Park Service and participate in field trips to learn about turtles with Friends of the National Park VI.
Maggie Day, who sits on the St. John board with Clarence Stephenson, Jon Eichner and David Radke, said community members have worked to keep the club running for years.
They started their pilot after-school program at Gifft Hill School in 2018. “What the school offered was great,” Day said, “but its location (several miles from Cruz Bay) made the issues of transportation a problem.”
The club was ready to return to Sprauve School when the pandemic hit, closing public schools and most recreational activities for two years.
The delay only made the Boys and Girls Club program more critical. “During COVID, when university education has gone digital, access to technology hasn’t happened here right away,” Day said.
In St. Thomas, Day said, the Boys and Girls Club youth went through the program in small groups and tracked their schoolwork. According to the St. Thomas Club website, 88% of members have been grade tested and three out of four expect to complete four years of college.
Day expects the St. John Club to provide the same support to all children in St. John, whether they attend Sprauve School, one of the private schools on the island, or are home schooled. “It levels the playing field through structured academic support. The advantage of being part of a national program is that you have to respect parameters. They provide structure, support and training to staff.
Day congratulates Chinue Uecker, Chairman of the Board of St. Thomas-St. John clubs, for his grant-writing efforts, and the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands for their support. The club is largely funded by grants and donations from small businesses, EDC and individuals, and help from the community is always appreciated.
Last Friday, 30 children from the St. Thomas Club joined 25 children from St. John for a day of play at the Cruz Bay National Park Playground. “Kids spend so much time on social media. We just wanted them to socialize together,” Richards said.
The children seemed eager to play ball together and frolic on the swings and slides. They also appreciated the pizza offered by Starfish Market and the cupcakes prepared by Maggie Day.
As this reporter was taking photos, 6-year-old Araiya Tonge – who happens to be Jackie Brown’s granddaughter – appeared to have her photo taken. When asked what she liked most about summer camp, she replied, “You can play, you can hang out, and the teachers are really nice.”