Growing up, I felt like I had one foot in the streets and the other foot in the Boys & Girls Club. My attendance at the Club was sporadic, depending on the time of year and what else was going on. I lived up the street, and all the kids in the neighborhood hung out at the Club. It wasn’t like it is now, with all the scheduled programs and daily curriculum–it was more of a place to hang out, play games, socialize, and stay out of trouble.
When I was 15, I started coming to the Club more regularly. I played football at Asbury Park High School and would come to the Club to lift weights to stay in shape for the team. I was not the greatest student, my home life was not always positive, and I lacked direction. Coming to the Boys & Girls Club was a constant, as was Miss Jackie, the Program Director at the time. Miss Jackie would laugh and joke with us, but when it was time for lesson learning, she definitely got her message across. She always had our backs, but if she thought we were in the wrong, she made sure to tell us why. Miss Jackie was a great mentor to me in showing me how to make the Club fun for kids, but also teach them lessons at the same time.
I liked helping out in the game room, and one day the game room supervisor went on a break and never returned. Miss Jackie recognized that I had a natural ability to work with the kids and asked me if I would like the job of running the game room. At the time, I just thought of it as easy money for the summer, but it became so much more. For the first time in my life, I actually believed that I could achieve something. The kids looked up to me, and I had a responsibility to be the man they could imitate.
As my job with the Club grew, I attended various training sessions to become a Youth Development Professional. In one of my first sessions, I learned an acronym that I still think of almost every day (pronounced “Buick”):
B – Belonging U – Usefulness I – Influence C – Competence
This taught me to be my best self every day because no matter what I was doing, I was making an impact on the kids. I always want this impact to be positive.
These kids get broken down all day. They get broken down at home, they get broken down in school, and they get broken down on the streets. Our job is to give them a brief respite from the negativity and prepare them to go home at night. We try to make the hours they spend here the best hours of their day. I try to always bring fun and laughter to the kids, so that they know that good exists in the world and that they can have positivity and goodness in their lives if they want it.