Why I volunteer

By Matt Jones

I grew up in the inner city, in a middle-class neighborhood. It was a good neighborhood, but, like any neighborhood in the inner city, it had its issues. I lost friends to the streets and others to violence. I attended one of the worst rated school districts in the State of Ohio. However, I was fortunate to have the guidance and awareness to change my mentality and realize my potential. I joined the Bridge Board and volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cleveland to support its mission and positively influence the kids of Northeast Ohio—I joined so others won’t have the same fate as some of my childhood friends.

One such volunteer experience was to attend a Cavs playoff game with about a dozen kids. A few were shy, others boisterous, but all were thrilled to be attending a playoff game. Prior to the game the kids rushed to create signs rooting for our hometown team. Once we took our seats, they were given shirts, towels, and treated to a free meal and beverage. The kids were filled with happiness and excitement. They were able to forget any issues, if only for a moment, and experience something they may not have otherwise experienced—a Cavs playoff win!

Another volunteer event that I enjoyed was helping kids decorate pumpkins. This group of nearly thirty kids were full of energy and creativity. They shouted for markers, glitter, feathers, and crazy eyes. They spent time showing off their creative genius to each other, myself, and the other Bridge Board volunteers. Some rushed through their designs and ran for pizza, while others carefully crafted their pumpkins. The joy and enthusiasm that these kids showed will never be lost on me.

I recommend volunteering with the Clubs and kids for various reasons. Some are mentioned above and others you will discover within yourself. As young professionals it’s important to surround ourselves with people from different backgrounds, ideas, and beliefs in order to tear down perceived barriers and enhance our understanding of our community. Through volunteering, what was once an issue that did not concern me has since become one because I better understand the issues of the community at large. So if there’s one thing I want to say it’s this: get out and volunteer because you can change not only the life of others, but yours as well.


More than College Guidance

My first experience with the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland was spending time volunteering at a few different BGCC sites.  I enjoyed playing games, working on homework, doing crafts, playing sports in the gym, and having conversations on so many different topics with kids of all ages.  Once I joined the Bridge Board it was only natural that when it came time to pick a committee to join that I would select both the Volunteer Committee and College Guidance.  Although I enjoy absolutely every volunteer event I attend (well, anything I do with BGCC club members), I can say that nothing has been more meaningful than my work with the Bridge Board’s College Guidance Committee.

The College Guidance Committee is a group of Bridge Board members who work closely with high school club members who apply to the College Guidance Program.  Once selected to participate in the program, teens are partnered with a Bridge Board member for mentoring and attend workshops and activities focused on college preparation and success.  Club members learn about SAT/ACT prep, organizational skills, how to navigate the college financial aid process, the college application process, assistance with college essays and personal statements, background on different types of college experiences (community colleges, state schools, private schools, large schools, small schools, etc), and even just some fun – whirly ball, escape room challenge, ice cream outings, plus 1-on-1 mentoring sessions.

While it was great to meet with a small group of club members on a regular basis, the time I have spent getting to know the two BGCC members I was partnered with who are now in college has been beyond rewarding.  It has been both wonderful and challenging to see them grow from their junior year to now about to finish their first semester of college. I have enjoyed learning about both their challenges and successes in the classroom, eating many meals together, learning about life outside of the classroom, discussing job opportunities and potential career paths, and answering questions as needed along their college application process.

It has been through a college visit to the eventual school they both chose to attend, receiving pictures from prom and graduation, questions about finalizing financial aid, and updates about how semester one is going that I have felt blessed to be a part of these individuals lives.  I’ve seen the impact and opportunities they both have been given through their involvement at their club after school and in the summer.  I’ve seen how they’ve grown from other mentoring opportunities, summer jobs, and leadership challenges at the clubs; and I can’t wait to see the many opportunities that continue to unfold for them on their college journey.

My experience on College Guidance has shown me what is unique about the Bridge Board and BGCC.  Yes, there are fundraising events, but the experiences members have from one time volunteer events (pumpkin decorating, back to school picnics, holiday parties, etc) is what makes the experience different from a typical board.  I hope that one or two of the college tips I’ve offered has been beneficial to the two club members I’ve been working with through College Guidance, but more importantly I hope they know how much they have taught me.  They have blest me with laughter, been examples of resilience, dedication, and strong work ethic, tested and taught me patience, and made me so proud.

Why I joined the Bridge Board and support the Boys and Girls Clubs

By Adam Beach

My experience with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland started 9 years ago but the reason I got involved started even before that. Prior to moving to Cleveland I lived in Milwaukee. While there I volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters and was fortunate to be matched with a 7 year boy named Peter. Peter was the seventh of nine children living with their single mother who was unable to work due to disability. I would typically spend one evening during the week with Peter and then on Sundays his mom would invite me to have dinner with the entire family. Lacking resources did not stop her from being a very kind and generous host and she loved her children more than anything. While I tried to help Peter in any way I could part of me struggled because I saw eight other children who needed just as much help.

That feeling drove me to try and find an organization where I felt I could help make a larger impact. Soon after moving to Cleveland I was introduced to the Boys and Girls Clubs and realized the impact they have on the community was exactly what I was looking for. Coincidentally at that time my cousin met Ron Soeder (President of BGCC) and with help from Ron’s daughter they decided to try and start a Young Professionals Board. A handful of us met to outline how our group could support in the mission of the organization and with some growing pains we were able to start the Bridge Board. The ability to help create and form our Board was an incredible experience and one I am grateful for.

The obvious benefit of the Bridge Board is the ability to interact with and be close to the kids. While there are numerous occasions over the years where I have seen the impact the Clubs have on the kids two in particular stand out to me. The first came while refereeing a basketball game. Just the fact that the kids get an opportunity to play organized sports and learn to be a part of a team is beneficial but it was a moment after the game ended that stuck with me. A young man was very emotional after his team lost the game and didn’t have the best response. His coach pulled him aside and consoled him but also gave him some firm advice on how to better handle adversity. I didn’t think the kid paid any attention but later that season I saw the same team play again and in a similar losing situation this young man behaved in an entirely different manner. He was cheering for his teammates, playing hard and even though his team lost he handled it superbly. I can just picture that small bit of advice from the coach staying with him in school and later in his career as he faced difficult situations and handling them much better.

The second example comes from a kid at the Broadway Club. I met him for the first time when he was 8 years old. We were talking one afternoon as I helped him with his homework. He was so happy because he had just recently learned how to write his name. It’s such a simple task, but he was not able to do so up until then. He explained how one of the staff members had been working with him every day after school and he was now learning how to read. I sort of took it for granted that kids would learn those skills but without intervention from the Clubs I’m not sure he would have gotten to that point. The joy and excitement he showed is a moment I will never forget.

While these examples may be small and anecdotal I believe they perfectly encapsulate the impact the Boys and Girls Clubs have on the children of Cleveland. These were two young men but on a daily basis hundreds of kids have similar experiences. Providing a safe place, a hot meal, a sympathetic ear, tutoring, career advice and many more services gives these kids a chance. It’s a chance that was not afforded Peter and his siblings in Milwaukee and it is why I am incredibly grateful yet incredibly humbled every chance I get to work with such an amazing organization and Board. They truly are changing lives in our community one kid at a time.


BGCC Bridge Board SPEAK Workshops help the kids speak their minds

My favorite program sponsored by the Bridge Board is the SPEAK Workshop Series at the St. Luke’s Club each spring. The workshops derived from a desire to engage Club Members of varying ages in a unique way. The instructor, the fabulous Dominique Paramore, began the first session by demanding the students’ full attention through an exercise designed to strengthen their minds and discipline. The group of 12 members from ages 8 thru 13 stood at attention, staring straight ahead, and were instructed to focus on the blank wall at the back of room….blocking out any and all distractions. This exercise, like many that Dominique took them through, was strategic as they’ll use this discipline from the workshop to block out negative distractions like peer pressure to reach goals they’ve set for themselves throughout their lives. Following this exercise, they were asked to describe the current state of events surrounding them at home or school. It sparked a lively discussion on a variety of topics from bullying to transgender bathrooms which led them to the topic of stereotypes.

From there, it was their duty to create the script, settings, characters, and all other elements of the play under the direction of the instructor. Each week, they were encouraged and instructed to manage the little time they had together to produce a play that they would perform in front of friends, family, staff, and the Bridge Board. The members also had to work as a team to problem solve when others could not attend practice or someone was struggling with their role. It was an amazing sight to see their commitment to making it work despite the circumstances for the performance titled “Don’t Judge Me.” Each member delivered a creative monologue debunking traditional stereotypes associated with the following roles within society:

  • Female Athlete
  • Church Girl
  • Ex-Con
  • Politician
  • Single Mom
  • Singer/Pop Star
  • Transgender
  • Overweight Girl

For example, the role of the ex-con was played by an 8-year old girl who wanted to convey that some ex-cons exit the system with the same goals as the Bridge Board which is to empower youth to become productive, responsible, and caring citizens.

The students did an amazing job with their program and delivered an effective message.  Hopefully they debunked some traditional stereotypes for themselves, each other, other Club Members, and their family and friends.  They certainly did for the Bridge Board!

Shared by Yentil Rawlinson, Program Manager with the Cleveland Clinic’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and member of the College Guidance and Volunteer Committees.




King Kennedy Back-to-School BBQ

Friday August 12th was not a typical work day. Bridge Board members and I hit the community for the annual King Kennedy Back-to-School BBQ. I attended this same event last year and although this year didn’t feature the bounce house, cotton candy machine, or icee maker, it had no shortage of community involvement.

Being a former Education Specialist with the Club, I saw many familiar faces from “Mama D” playing kick ball with the students to Richard (aka “Mr. Rich”) dancing and manning the grill in the 90+ degree heat (with about 90% humidity). I began to record Richard on snap chat when he smiled at my phone and said “Great Futures Start Here” and continued to flip the hamburgers and hot dogs.

Outside we had hamburgers and hotdogs; inside it looked like a professional basketball camp, many of the students were doing layup lines and ball passing drills while the DJ spun tracks.  I even saw a former student of mine from the Broadway Club, Mikayla Boykin, who assured me she still loved Kyrie Irving and was excelling at volleyball in high school.

Many parents and younger siblings came out to the Club to join in the festive atmosphere and grab some fare hot-off-the-grill. Before leaving, every student starting kindergarten and on up lined up and got to pick out a brand new back-pack full of supplies needed for the coming school year.  (The Bridge Board donated funds to purchase 100 back-to-school supply kits and donate them to students attending the Clubs.)  The smiles on the students’ faces, and pride with which they showed off their new gear, was unmatched.

Many community leaders attended the event including BGCC President Ron Snyder and Z 107.9 Incognito.  Aside from the heat, this was an awesome event. My biggest take away is how excited the students were to get their backpacks full of supplies.

Many thanks to Richard Starr, the King Kennedy Staff, the BGCC, and the many supporters of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland who made this event possible.


Shared by Michael J. Houser, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff for Cuyahoga County

Bridging the Gap on the Bridge Board

My experience on the Bridge Board has been incredible. Being able to work with kids on a positive and proactive level gives me life! I joined the Board in May 2015 and it has been one of my best decisions. So far, most of my time has been spent with the College Guidance Committee. We mentor the youth who are currently in high school and have aspirations to attend college. We create college readiness programs such as time management workshops to make their transition into college a smooth one. Once the youth enter college their mentors continue to check-in with them to ensure they are staying engaged in their studies as well as be a support system. In addition to business, we take them out to do fun things such as Whirlyball and escape rooms.

One of the reasons I joined the Board was because I worked as a juvenile probation officer and I would constantly see youth who are not engaged in any pro-social activities or have a strong support system. As I watched some youth circulate in and out of the court system, I decided that I wanted to work with the youth on a more proactive level to contribute to positive development and reduce the likelihood of court involvement.  Prior to my employment with the court, I had no knowledge of the day-to-day struggles in urban areas. I have participated in a few police panels where different members of law enforcement (i.e. prosecutors, police officers, detectives, etc.) came into the Broadway Club and played with the youth. After about an hour of engaging in fun activities, they revealed their affiliation with law enforcement. By doing this, it helped them build relationships with the youth before revealing their occupation. During the panel, the youth were able to ask questions and be transparent regarding their view of law enforcement.

Another program that has been fulfilling for me is our Teen Night. Although I value all youth, I take special interest in the teens. Myself along with other members of the Board gathered at the Broadway club on a Friday evening to sit and talk with the youth about social problems, academics, current events, etc. As everyone shared pizza and refreshments, we were able to get the youth’s suggestions on programming to make their experiences in the club valuable and memorable. Once the discussion was over, we moved our fun to the gym where we played games and listened to music.

Although I have only been on the Board for a short amount of time, it has made an impact on me personally. Seeing the struggles that the kids go through but continue to thrive amazes me. I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that I am doing my best to impact their lives.

Written by Brittni Sanders, Volunteer Committee Member and College Guidance Committee Member



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