Boys & Girls Clubs give safe places for Flint youth to grow, learn and play

Young girls raises her fists in triumph after successfully removing a game peace from the base of a Jenga game tower and while not toppling it to the table.
A young member plays Jenga at the Club’s new Peak Unit over the summer. Photo: Sarah Schuch

A lot has changed for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint (the Club) since it launched 15 years ago.

The organization started at the Averill Avenue Unit with a few classrooms in the former Sobey Elementary School. Meals for the kids were served in the lobby. The Club had a board, a few dedicated staff members and loyal volunteers.

Today, just like the young people it serves, the Club is experiencing impressive growth.

In July, with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, staff cut the ribbon on the Club’s new Peak Extension Site, located at 1261 W. Bristol Road. They piloted the new site earlier this year and throughout the summer, and officially began using the space year-round when afterschool programming started for the 2019-2020 school year.

Tauzzari Robinson (red shirt), Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint staff and community partners cut the ribbon on the Peak Extension Site, located on Flint’s south side.
Photo: Sarah Schuch

“With approximately 68,500 square feet of combined space at the Averill and Peak Units, we operate one of the largest summer youth programs in the city of Flint,” said Tauzzari Robinson, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint.

In 2018, the Club served more than 1,700 registered members — an increase of 23% from the previous year. In just the first three quarters of 2019, Robinson said the Club already has served more than 1,900 young people.

But even as the Club grows within the city, the organization’s vision and mission have stayed the same — to provide a safe space for young people to grow and benefit socially, physically, economically and educationally.

For 16-year-old Marissa Carr, the Club quickly became a place that felt like home. A member of the Averill Avenue location since she was 7 years old, she said it has been a welcoming place for everyone who has walked through the doors.

Two girls work on an art project together while sitting across from each other at a table.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint members color during summer programming at the Club’s Peak Unit. Local youth have access to a variety of activities at both of the Club’s locations that help them grow and benefit socially, physically, economically and educationally.
Photo: Sarah Schuch

“I love the staff and the opportunities that were open to me by going to the Boys & Girls Clubs. If I am having a problem at school or with my friends, I know I can talk to a staff member, and they will help me work through it,” Carr said. “I think the Boys & Girls Clubs help other people in the community by just opening up their doors and allowing kids to have a safe place to go after school.”

The Club offers programs for youth and teens that focus on healthy lifestyles, academic success, good character and citizenship, and the arts.

Carr participates in TeenQuest and SMART Girls through the Club. She said those programs have taught her a lot about self love and the importance of having healthy relationships. She also developed skills that helped her get a job as Junior Staff at the Boys & Girls Clubs.

A young man leans across a billiards table with his stick as he is aiming to take a shot.
A junior staff member plays pool at the Club’s Peak Unit, which officially opened for year-round programming this fall.
Photo: Sarah Schuch

“I know firsthand, as a Boys & Girls Clubs alumnus, that the Club can bring a number of benefits to the city. We are able to provide young people and families with access to programs that close the job skills gap, break the cycles of inequity and grow our community’s next leaders by providing young people with a safe place that is fun and staffed with caring mentors and program partners,” Robinson said.

Stacy Winchester’s son Knox has been a member since he was 7.

“I continue to enroll him because of the opportunity to develop in his social interaction and to be exposed to the variety of focused activities, such as the studio and steel drum band, and the opportunity of learning how to navigate through real world situations and challenges, such as understanding finances and peer pressures,” Winchester said.

The Club gives a safe place for all kids, he said, adding that staff help guide youth in seeking to be their best self and in feeling safe to open up and connect in positive ways.

Young girls sit on yoga mats while watching and following instructions given to them by the yoga teacher as she demonstrates in front of the class.
Local youth participate in a yoga class at the Club’s Peak Unit during summer programming.
Photo: Sarah Schuch

The hope for the future is that the Club can continue to grow and to identify partners in the community and in neighborhoods where there’s a need, Robinson said. He described the opening of a second location as a step in the right direction.

“The fact that we were able to open and operate a second location in another area of the city is monumental for our organization for a number of reasons. We were finding ourselves at capacity at our Averill Avenue location and forced to turn away members at an alarming rate.

“Transportation is such a huge barrier for families, [and] we are able to ensure that this is no longer a barrier for families in the southern part of Flint. The expansion allows us to serve a neighborhood that we [were not previously] located in and build upon the reputation that we have earned in our 15 years at our Averill Avenue Unit.”

Afterschool programming is now running at both locations. Programs operate at the Averill Unit from 3 to 8 p.m. and at the Peak Site from 3 to 6 p.m. Registration is available at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint.