By TIbian Ahmed, Nick Kalantzopoulos, and Demi Guo
At the end of April, children from the Port Jefferson Boys and Girls Club will help plant a vegetable garden with their counselors. A nutritionist and agricultural instructor will conduct a meeting with the children to teach them how to take care of the garden, eat healthy and work in groups.
Director of Organizational Development of the Boys and Girls Club of America, Gene Bailey, said that the Port Jefferson facility is one of two Suffolk Club locations. The Port Jefferson club opened in 1977 and serves 70 children in its after school program, Cronk said. Each child pays $125 a month during the school year and $270 per person each week in the summer for seven weeks.
Dan O’Brien, who has been working at the Port Jefferson Boys and Girls Club for over 20 years, continues to help the growth of his new students and the program as a whole.
“You know, I see them all grown and they’re married with kids,” O’Brien said, who runs into the children he’s worked with over the years. “It’s great.” He looks back and recognizes the same personalities in the kids he works with today.
Sometime this week, Club Executive Director Kirk Cronk is organizing a meeting with a representative from Island Harvest, a Hauppage food bank, and Cornell Cooperative, a non-profit community education agency that works on agricultural projects in Long Island, to plan out the garden project.
The meeting will cover how to till out the four-by-twenty foot squared wooden area for a garden, which will be directly on the property. Once the meeting is concluded, the kids will be introduced to their new garden project. The staff and students will start planting around the end of April and will instantly be able to plant radishes. Once the weather gets better, they will grow tomatoes as well, Cronk said.
O’Brien said that the determining factor for the youths’ success is the foundation planted for them at the Boys and Girls Club, and that he hopes that the garden will teach them responsibility.
The 70 children, ages six through 13, currently enrolled in the after school program will benefit from the garden’s exposure to agriculture and educational perspectives on nutritional health.
“The garden would create a change of scenery and that’s what most kids want to do, they want to get more socially active,” 18-year-old counselor Dion Brown, said.
“I definitely think that it’s probably the best daycare in the area. (Others) don’t have as many programs and didn’t give you as much freedom to make crafts and use all the stuff they have here,” 12-year-old Emma Wiermann, said. Emma has been coming to the after school program at the Boys and Girls Club for two years.
Some children have divorced parents and others go home to emotionally abusive families, O’Brien said. “You’re sending kids home to unsupervised activities and sometimes, bad decisions are made,” he said. “I would like to think that there is a need for the clubs. That would be my hope.”
Now that spring has arrived, students will be able to diversify their activities and choose between video games and board games inside or playing sports and other outdoor exercises, Brown said. The new garden will expand their choice of outdoor activities.
“We try to expose children to all different activities because not every child will be interested in the same thing,” Cronk said. “We have a nutritionist come in and we show them how to cook vegetables. I’ve learned that if they cook it themselves they’ll eat it.”
A study done by deputy program director Scott Colby in early March 2016, found that 40% of the kids are age 12 and up.
The facility was once an elementary school, Cronk said, and now is made up of four classrooms, a music room, a computer room, and an all-purpose room that doubles as a cafeteria.
But what O’Brien said he hopes for the most is an indoor gym, though the building is small. O’Brien hopes to find as many physical activities as he can for his students. “With the garden, it’s another activity that will bring everyone together,” Tardella said.