The Best Class of All
Words of Wisdom from Boys & Girls Club Teens

VIDEO: “Words of Wisdom” from Boys & Girls Club youth

by Barbara Cervone

CHATTANOOGA, TN—Long known as a place to throw some hoops or hang out, or for its summer camps and childcare, the Boys & Girls Club of Chattanooga—and the Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA)—is sharpening a new image: a place for teens with the drive for college.

“I don’t need anybody to be on my back, but I do need encouragement,” says Tunisha, 16, a member of the Chattanooga BGC. “And that’s what I get here, at the Club. It gets me out of my comfort zone, it teaches me to ask for what I need to succeed.”

“I want to be the first in my family to go to college, to get a degree,” adds Demetre, 18.  “I’m just waiting for the time to come when I can prove everybody wrong—except my counselors at the Boys and Girls Club, who believed in me from the start.”

Tunisha and Demetre stand out in this city, whose graduation rate hovers at 50 percent in high schools where African-Americans are the majority. College going is the exception and not the rule among their peers. Yet both will enter university in the fall, and they credit their success more to the Boys & Girls Club (which Demetre has attended since he was ten) than to their schools.

Supporting elements

Did you know?

BGCA serves more than 4 million youth, in over 4,000 clubs located in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and on U.S. military bases overseas.

65% of Club members are from minority families; 47% come from single-parent households.

55% are male and 45% female.

One-third are teenagers.

33% of all Boys & Girls Clubs are located in schools.

12% of all Boys & Girls Clubs are located in public housing.

4% of all Boys & Girls Clubs are located on Native American lands.

These two high school seniors say that they come to the Club several afternoons a week and many Saturdays because of Keystone, its signature program for teens. They cite friendships with like-minded peers, and a staff that supports them at every step. They also talk about their desire to give back to their community. And they tie these to their dreams of college and bright careers.

“It’s both a new and a familiar direction for us,” says Brazellia Baker, BGCA’s Senior Director for Program and Youth Development Services. “Supporting youth at every turn with a safe, positive place and caring adults is something we’ve always strived to do. Stepping up the opportunities and supports they need for college and beyond, that’s the new part of our organization’s strategic plan.”

True to its name, the BGCA’s Keystone Club provides the central supporting element of a larger structure: encouraging leadership, moving kids out of their comfort zone, strengthening connections with caring adults, building a commitment to working hard, reinforcing the importance of academic learning. Through community service projects, youth learn the value of voluntarism. Surrounded by mentors and a circle of friends, they learn about others as they learn about themselves.

Through various career programs, BGCA teens also get a chance to intern in local nonprofits and businesses, try on (and reject) careers, and practice responsibility.

“Folks talk about college prep and taking the right classes for college,” says Tunisha. “To me, these experiences are the best class of all.”

Standing out

Almost three thousand miles away, teens at the Wallingford branch of the BGC in Seattle, Washington strike the same chord. They have lots to say—about what it takes to be a leader, what distinguishes the Boys & Girls Club from school (and makes it better, in their view), what constitutes a good mentor, what they hope to be when they grow up.

“Being a leader means learning how to be more proactive, how to help others, how to channel attitude into something positive.” – Chloe, 15

“There’s 1200 kids at my school, the ratio is so different. Here, with our counselors, when I ask for help on my homework, they know what my skills are, what I’m good at, what I don’t know, what I need to improve on. Because they know me better, it’s a lot easier to ask for help and get the help I really need.”
- Sabrene, 15

“It’s important to have an adult who isn’t your parent that you can talk to. Sometimes your parents don’t always support you the way they should. They have a wrong idea of who you are, so they can’t really understand where you are coming from or your goals or the situation you may have gotten into. A mentor meeting you in a later stage of your life can see more truly who you are and support you better in that way.” – Jazmin, 16

“I want to go to college so that I can do my little part to change the world. I want to be a scientist.” – Chloe, 15


To hear Chattanooga’s Demetre and Tunisha talk about what they’ve gained, click here to watch an audio slideshow.

To hear more of what the Seattle BGC teens have to say, click on the links below. Participants: Chloe, Isaiah, Nyjuanna, Silvano, Jazmin, and Sabrene.


Kids on the Wire

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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

– Deborah Meier, educator