A “power hour” starts in the afternoon for nearly 100 schoolchildren who daily are bused from various schools to the Boys and Girls Club of Black Rock. The hour has nothing to do with game-playing or muscle-building.
Power hour encourages children from kindergarten through eighth grade to do their homework, said the club’s unit director. It is the first of three hours of grant-funded programming designed to increase children’s chances of leading successful lives.
“Any child who comes here for four years has a very good chance of succeeding in school,” said Rose Roa-Higgins.
The club director and her staff of 13 are the first people the children see after finishing a full day at school. The after-school program, which offers a hot meal, drama classes, a chess club and a newly surfaced gymnasium, builds self-esteem for the “Club Kids.”
“They get off the bus, and if they have a bad day at school, we’ll try and make their day better,” said assistant director Brittany Kerr, who has a degree in early childhood education.
“I wanted to teach, but here the atmosphere is different than in an actual school,” said Kerr. “This encourages social interaction in a positive way.”
Former Mayor Anthony Masiello was a Club Kid. So was former basketball great Bob Lanier. Boxer Baby Joe Mesi came up through the Babcock Clubhouse.
The Buffalo News Neediest Fund helps to make Christmas brighter for the children registered at the clubhouse, located in Nazareth Lutheran Church on Skillen Avenue. Each year, the fund provides families with food, a Christmas tree, trimmings and presents.
Other community members also reach out to the cash-strapped clubhouse. The drama club recently staged its first production of “The Wizard of Oz” with the help of a $1,200 gift from an anonymous donor, Roa-Higgins said.
“Twenty brand new coats were just donated by the Knights of Columbus, and I’ll be shopping for boots with a gift certificate from Payless,” she said. “This is a very poor club. We keep sneakers here for kids who don’t have their own.”
Clubhouse doors open at 2:30 p.m. when the first of 28 buses begins to drop the children off. The gym opens at 3:30, and dinner is served at 4. Most programs end at 6, but one day each week the clubhouse extends hours to 7 for a prevention program targeting girls ages 10 to 14.
“We cover tobacco awareness, goal setting, abstinence awareness, puberty, sexual awareness, dating, drugs. Everything they need to know,” said Roa-Higgins, who can’t walk the halls without being stopped by her young charges.
A second-grader who ran up to Roa-Higgins whispered a request to play flag football with the older boys. The answer was a swift, “No.”
“They ask every day,” she said, without skipping a step. “I can’t mix ages. It’s just not healthy.
“We had three arguments today, and I don’t know why. They need to learn it’s OK to have differences. You do not have to like somebody, but you have to respect them, and you must, in this building, get along.”
The Black Rock Club Kids have built a reputation as good eaters. One recent afternoon, turkey, mashed potatoes and celery sticks were served as part of the hot meal program the club started three years ago.
“When we first started the program, a lot of the children steered away from fruit,” Roa-Higgins said. “Fruit is expensive, and a lot of the low-income households don’t buy fruit and vegetables. They buy carbs and a little meat. We have kids who will ask for two or three servings, and if we have it, we’ll give it to them.
We will give any kid in the world seconds of vegetables.”
At 15, Samantha Ciluik has been a Club Kid for four years. Wearing a bright pink shirt that identified her as a program helper, she had just finished her second helping of celery sticks with ranch dressing.
In the art room, meanwhile, boxes of acorns were scattered throughout the room. Each acorn would soon be decked with glitter and used as a Christmas ornament. Larger acorns would become trees, explained art teacher Edna “Yaya” Folvarcik.
It is clear this club is powered by pride.
“After Christmas they’ll start ‘Read to Succeed.’ This year’s theme will be diversity,” Roa-Higgins said.
“We also want to start a sewing program, teaching children to make hats and scarves from fleece,” she said, pointing to a sewing machine in the art room. “If we don’t get funding, there won’t be any extra programming.”