As Jacqueline Brown describes it, the Boys & Girls Club, St. Thomas, sounds more like a family than a club. Almost 50 children and youth, aged 6 to 16, signed up for its five-week summer program. More attend after-school programs that run daily during the week, throughout the school year.
Like its St. Croix counterpart, the St. Thomas club is affiliated with the Boys & Girls Club of America.
The club provides a safe place to tackle homework assignments, one-on-one tutoring for those who need and want it, a full menu of sports and fitness classes, outings designed just for fun, an introduction to new experiences, coaching for job hunting, and general support for growing up.
And once you finish high school, “We don’t dump you,” Brown said. “We keep with you” as long as you want.
The club works with a number of government departments and agencies, most notably the Law Enforcement Planning Commission, the Housing Authority and the Department of Human Services, to reach the youngsters who most need the service. It also partners with many private groups on various projects.
For many years the club was located on Fireburn Hill in Savan, but the structure there needed major repair for which there was insufficient funding. In 2009 it moved to its current home in the community center at Oswald Harris Court housing community. Brown said members come from across the island, from Bordeaux to the East End and everywhere in between.
Programs and special activities are built around regular school times. During the school year, students can come to the club from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and also take part in Saturday activities. Over Christmas vacation and during the summer, the club operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
For the older students, there are workshops emphasizing character building and careers, with considerable attention to helping teens build and present their résumés.
During the school year, the emphasis is on academics, with such activities as sewing, crochet, arts and sports and fitness and martial arts reserved for Fridays or Saturdays. In the summer, mornings are devoted to “Project Learn” but a more relaxed atmosphere takes over in the afternoon.
“We try to expose the kids to activities that they would not normally do at home,” Brown said, and to tap into resources available in the community, including the fine and performing arts. Offerings include such as things as dance and stilt walking. Students who are members of the drama club attend at least two shows at the Pistarckle Theater. There are also free tickets for some of the Tillett Garden concerts.
Every year, members of the Boys & Girls Club are invited to try out their angling skills during the annual fishing tournament in Red Hook, with the St. Thomas Fish and Game Club supplying the necessary equipment and prizes, Brown said.
Recently, the club partnered with the Boy Scouts Council and “they went camping at the St. Thomas swimming pool” in Smith Bay, she said.
Summer is also the time for field trips – to a wide variety of sights, including Fort Christian, Water Island, Hassel Island, St. John, Blackbeard’s, and even to view the operations of the Waste Management water treatment plant near the Bovoni landfill.
“We try to keep the trips educational,” Brown explained.
There are three full-time people on staff, including Brown, who has been with the Boys & Girls Club since 2002. There are also many volunteers, including high school students earning community service credits, two retired teachers who are loyal supporters, a few parents and some staff from major hotels on the island.
There is also a regular contingent from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, frequently including its head, U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe.
“They have been volunteering with us for the past five years,” Brown said. “They see the quality that these kids possess.”
The program is funded through government grants and private donations. More information is available by calling Brown at 1-340-715-3052.