“Great futures start here!” – Rick Huisman
Here’s an eye opener: For as mobile a society as we have become, most kids in the inner city seldom leave a twelve-block radius. After school, many have limited learning opportunities or social activities at home. “So they come to our clubs,” says Rick Huisman, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids, a key community partner that’s helping kids overcome some of the academic and social challenges they face.
Three clubs, such as the Paul I. Phillips Recreation Center, are located in the neighborhoods where kids most in need of support live. They are open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. for children ages six to eighteen. During those six important hours, staff and volunteers engage, assist, instruct and motivate students through activities that include art and music, which promote their self-esteem and help them get on track to graduate high school and plan a productive future.
Two police officers work full time at the clubs, too, as part of a unique partnership between the Boys and Girls Club and the Grand Rapids Police Department that began in 1938. “So often, the police are seen in a negative light,” says Rick, “But when they’re in the club every day, the kids see them as friends and trusted adults they can talk to. Their presence in the clubs and their role as mentors is a blessing.”
Annual membership is $5 per student. Each club has several social, cultural and athletic opportunities, but homework comes first, and help is always available.
“When a teacher signs a student’s progress report, that student can participate in our sports programs,” says Rick, who knows a lot about the lure of extracurricular activities – especially team sports. He was a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals when he became acquainted with Boys and Girls Clubs. Being on a basketball team or learning to play an instrument, he says, is a reward for finishing school work.
At a time when the national high school graduation rate hovers around 75%, and nearly half the kids in inner city schools drop out, Rick beams when he reports that 90% of club members complete high school and go on to have good lives. He says with a smile, “Great futures start here!”