Boys & Girls Club looking to double programs for teens

With most kids back to school this week, parents are busy figuring out what to do with kids after school.  The Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania are celebrating 130 years of helping families with a place for kids to go outside of school time, and they have an added focus for the future.  They found that once many kids became teenagers, they weren’t returning.  That’s now starting to change with the incredible, new programs they’re offering.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America originally started as a place to get boys off the streets and doing something safe.  The tradition began in our area in 1888 in Lawrenceville as the Boys Club.  One hundred years after that, girls were welcomed, and now, the Boys & Girls Club in Lawrenceville is still giving kids a safe and fun place to go after school.

Mikiya Carington, a sophomore at Taylor Allderdice High School, says, “I feel like I can be safe.  I feel like I can always meet new people.  I feel like just all good feelings in general that will come with being with friends.”

The president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Western PA, Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmeri, says, “Over 60 percent of the families we serve are single-parent households, and so, not only does it allow parents and guardians to have a safe place for their kids to go after school, or for their teens to go in the evening at that specialty program time, it also allows them to have an affordable option.” The general after school program is only $40 a month, with a small additional fee for specialty evening programs.

But the challenge the clubs face is enticing teenagers who could stay home alone.  The seven Boys & Girls Clubs of Western PA serve about 1,000 teenagers in a year, but they’re hoping to double that with some programs geared toward teenagers, including the Teen Workforce Development Academy and other Healthy Lifestyles program to minimize risky behaviors.

Gogan Phuyal, a sophomore from Baldwin High School, describes a project he’s been working on there since the summer.  “What we’re trying to do is have a spacecraft with a computer system that can learn and adapt to its environment and it can react to problems by itself, without any humans telling it what to do.”

Phuyal is one of many teenagers from all over the region coming to the Boys & Girls Club for these new programs.  The Artificial Intelligence Pathways Institute that he’s in was funded by a PA Smart grant.  The students are learning from professionals from PPG — designing, presenting and creating their own student projects.

Jessica Walls-Lavelle, director of Governor Tom Wolf’s Southwest office, said, “In one decade, 7 in 10 careers will be in tech or will require computer skills.  So it’s very important that the workforce match up with the jobs that are going to be coming available in the next decade.”

Chris Caruso, Vice President of IT for PPG, said, “There’s not enough diversity in technology, and I think that this kind of program’s really going to encourage that.”  The students say they love learning about real jobs and developing the skills to achieve them.

     Phuyal adds, “I want to be an astronaut in the future, and I get the perfect opportunity to do a project on what I’m passionate about.  And I can present it to PPG….  This is really exciting.”