For Lisa Keller, of North Tonawanda, and her daughter, Olivia, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns holds a special place in their hearts.
“I adopted my daughter from China as a single parent. When Olivia started kindergarten, I researched many after school options. The Boys & Girls Club program at her school was my first choice. Olivia received homework help, ate a snack, made friends with neighborhood children including some from other countries, participated in sports and games, and learned to make healthy decisions that continue to shape her life today. She did well in school, and when she struggled, there was someone at the club ready to help her overcome her obstacles,” said Keller.
Olivia is now 19 years old and a sophomore commuter at Niagara University. While she could have moved on with her life and kept the BGCNT close in her memories, a part of her never wanted to leave. When she was younger, Olivia participated in the Future Leaders in Training program and when she was 16, she was offered a paying job as a staff member at Camp Spirit. Olivia was also named the BGCNT Youth of the Year at 16 and given the opportunity to travel to Albany. Although she is in college, she still works full time at Camp Spirit each summer.
“She tells me it feels like a second home to her. She loves the atmosphere and the leadership opportunities, not to mention, the friendships. She’s actually going on vacation to Iceland soon with her friend, Amanda, who she met at camp,” said Keller.
But while Olivia came from a stable home with a mother who just wanted to give her daughter a positive after school environment so she could thrive, some parents need the BGCNT for more than that.
The club offers a meal for kids every day, and for some that’s the only meal they will get that evening. Some children also need additional academic support, and club staff provides that. They are able to learn new skills surrounded by adults who care, so they don’t feel alone. The club also takes kids on field trips that families might otherwise not be able to afford.
"We all want to believe that every child has an equal chance – but the truth is, some families don’t have as many resources as others do, and their children struggle,” said Kevin “Duke” Reilly, CEO of John W. Danforth Company and supporter of BGCNT. “The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns allows them to make friends with children from different backgrounds, learn how to make good decisions, and spend time with caring adults, opportunities some may not receive regularly at home.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns is now reaching out to the community for help to ensure that services continue for children in Buffalo, Kenmore and the Tonawandas. One can make a tax-deductible donation by visiting Bgcnt.net/support-us or by mailing a check to Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns, 54 Riverdale Ave., Buffalo, NY 14207.