Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club nurtures future generations
In a world where children’s free time is often filled with screens and technology, we got the chance to explore a more magical reality where imaginations run wild, and creativity knows no bounds. A place where local youth gather after school to play, interact with friends, work on art projects, receive homework help and more; where laughter fills the air and smiles are easy to come by.
On a dreary Wednesday afternoon, as dark clouds rolled in and rain began to fall, we were welcomed into the bright and inviting Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club to speak with staff and tour the facility ahead of the arrival of the kids for the day. As soon as you set foot inside, you can tell this is a truly special place. Almost in defiance of whatever gloom may be outdoors, inside colorful murals line most of the hallways, and photos of both past and present Club members can be found all over – a testament to the impact Club members have on the staff and how proud they are of each child who attends the Club.
Executive Director Tom Luckie, Jr. walked us through the various gyms, gaming areas, homework spaces, a craft room and more, eyes alight as he spoke about the Club’s impact on area youth. Tom has served as the executive director since 2005, having assumed the leadership role from his dad, who ran the Club for nearly 40 years. He shared the secret to the Club’s continued success: community support and the Club kids who return as adult volunteers and staff. “Our strength is that we have a lot of successful alumni who give back,” Tom said. “We’ve been at it since 1964.”
Revenue sources, such as donations from individuals and businesses, state and federal funds, and grants from the Northern New York Community Foundation and the United Way of Northern New York (UWNNY), enable the Club to serve hundreds of kids each year. UWNNY funding is used to purchase groceries for under-resourced families whose children attend the Club.
“Our kids are hungry all the time. They eat lunch early, so when they get here, they’re hungry. And a lot of them don’t know where or when their next meal or next snack is coming from, so they look forward to anything that we can give them,” said Tom.
The Boys and Girls Club is so much more than just a place to get a meal. For many, it is also a place to make new friends, learn new skills, and have fun. With its focus on after-school support, the Club has become a haven for many of the area’s youth. Despite the challenges that come with serving such a large and diverse group of children, the staff at the Boys and Girls Club remain dedicated to making a difference in their lives.
Megan McNamara, the assistant director, has been on staff for nineteen years and is also an alum, having started with the Club at the age of six. “I’d say the best part about the job is knowing that every single day we have the chance to make a difference in a child’s life, and they make a difference in our lives every day,” she said. “I think it’s instrumental in these kids’ lives that we have such a dedicated staff.”
Brei Shaver, who started attending the Club at age five and began working there at sixteen, just recently became full time. She shared how much she enjoys bonding with the kids and helping guide them towards doing the right thing. “It’s a great place for kids to go,” she said. “It was definitely fun coming here as a kid.”
From speaking with various staff members and experiencing the Club for ourselves, it was clear just how dedicated everyone was to making the experience a positive and impactful one for every child that passes through the doors.
Candid interviews with staff came to an end at 2:40 p.m. once the doors had officially opened for the evening, resulting in a sea of kids making their way into the Club around the same time. In the span of just a few minutes, 164 kids had arrived on the premises, excitedly talking with one another, telling staff about their day, and enjoying the atmosphere of the Club. Like a well-oiled machine, the staff are practiced and able to get each child signed in and accounted for before they run off to whatever activity they’ve set their sights on for the moment.
While the noise level rose several decibels in the beautiful chaos of the kids’ arrival, a stark contrast to the quiet of just a few minutes prior, it was great to see so many kids enjoying themselves and interacting with each other in a fun and safe environment. Not only did the noise level transform, so did the premises and the staff members within. Rooms that had been sitting empty were suddenly filled with wonder and excitement, and the staff seemed to be filled with the same thanks to the infectious energy of the kids.
We spoke with several youngsters, asking what draws them to the Club, including Jerzy, Chase, Hope, and Emberlynn. Chase, who primarily came for sports, finds the environment great, while Emberlynn appreciates the opportunity to make new friends, work on teamwork, and complete homework. Hope and Jerzy enjoy the many activities and the kind staff members they see each day. The kids love the Club so much that they were eager to get back out to play with their friends and work on whatever they needed to do that day but took the time to sit down to tell us about how the Club had impacted them, leaving us with an increased sense of the importance of places such as the Boys and Girls Club for local youths.
According to Tom, attendance at the Club has never been greater, due to an increased need for after-school support in the area. Most school days, there are between 160 and 180 in attendance. Additionally, the Club offers a full-day program in the summer.
Tom noted that the Club is fortunate to have various funding streams to be able to continue its vital work. “The United Way, state and federal grants, individual donors, restaurants and community support allow us to do what we do,” he said. “Our membership is $6 a year, but no one’s ever turned away for the inability to pay.”
The Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club is a vital resource, providing youth with positive role models, a safe environment in which to learn and grow, and opportunities to reach their true potential. We are honored to play some small role in nurturing future generations through our support of the Ogdensburg Boys and Girls Club and thankful for the many donors who make this grant possible.
United, we can support one another and build a brighter future, one child at a time.