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Boys and Girls Club seeks support for Peabody unit at Higgins Middle School

Posted by Ryan Mooney  November 28, 2012 02:16 PM

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Andrew St. Pierre can relate to the children he sees every afternoon at the Peabody unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem.

Now a 27-year-old social studies teacher at Higgins Middle School, it was only about 15 years go that he was in the same boat as they are, with both parents working into the evenings, and nothing to do after school but go home to an empty house. He credits the role models he found in the Peabody Public Schools for keeping him away from trouble, which is unfortunately where a lot of children in the same situation find themselves.

Empty afternoons were not a part of life for St. Pierre until he moved to Peabody in middle school. Before that, he lived in Salem, spending his afternoons at the Salem Boys and Girls Club on Hawthorne Boulevard.

But these days Peabody youth can also take advantage of club programs.

Unlike St. Pierre, children in Peabody have had the Salem Boys and Girls Club as an option ever since the organization was able to open a unit at Higgins Middle School in 2007, where St. Pierre now spends his adult afternoons.

"Parents work until 5 or 6 o'clock and my parents did the same thing, and when I moved to Peabody I had nowhere to go after school, just an empty house," St. Pierre said. And that's the situation that would face Peabody club members today if there wasn't a club.

This year, the club has 51 registered members in Peabody, and about 15 to 30 kids that are there every afternoon by St. Pierre's estimate.

Those numbers were nil when the program, in dire need of funding, had to shut down for a the fall semester of 2011 before being rejuvenated by a $25,000 donation by the Kelley Automotive Group and $30,000 donation from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, among others.

St. Pierre appeared at the Peabody School Committee meeting on Tuesday night with Joanne Scott, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem, to talk about the Higgins program's greatest threat - a lack of monetary support from the Peabody community.

Scott says the program, which only charges $10 per year for membership for children ages 8 through 18, costs about $50,000 per year to run. The Peabody unit has enough money to sustain itself at least through the end of this year, and maybe enough to start next year, but the piggy bank has a bottom, and it's easy to reach despite the efforts to squeeze every penny. All funds donated to the Peabody program remain in Peabody, placed in a separate bank account from the Salem program.

"We depend a lot on community support, and if it's not for community support we can't continue," Scott said.

One of the things that sets the Peabody program apart from that of Salem is a slightly closer focus on education as part of the program.

Volunteers and employees of the Boys and Girls Club are often made up of college and even high school students, but according to Scott, the administration at Higgins Middle School, both past and present, has asked that the club employ more teachers. The performances of students who regularly attend indicate the benefits of such an approach; St. Pierre says that the homework completion rate jumped from 40 to 90 percent over the course of last year.

Employing more teachers raises costs, but school board member Beverley Griffin Dunne thinks that working more closely with school officials could potentially allow the club to apply for state or federal funds with the public school department as an after-school program.

"I'm wondering as far as support if there is any coordination or cooperation that the school department could give to the Boys and Girls Club as far as being a program run in conjunction with the school department," Dunne said. "There might be some federal funds out there that they would be eligible for by virtue of collaborating with the public schools."

If Dunne's suggestion is a possibility, and until something like it be achieved, support will need to come from within the community that the Boys and Girls Club serves.

Any corporations or businesses that would be interested in supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem at Peabody's Higgins Middle School can contact Joanne Scott, executive director, at 978-744-0915 ext. 15, or email jscott@bgcgs.org.

Ryan Mooney can be reached at globe.mooney@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.

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