IMMOKALEE — Shortly after the Immokalee Boys & Girls Club upgraded to a stand-alone club in February, it received a $20,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide mentoring and fitness activities to the club’s 122 youth through the SMART Moves program.
“Based on statistics, youth are apt to do bad things between 3 and 7 p.m.,” said Robert North, Boys & Girls Club director. “The Boys & Girls Club provides a positive place for youth, so the (Office) of Juvenile Justice passes the funds through to the club to provide mentoring services.”
According to the OJJDP, juvenile violence peaks during afterschool hours. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) strives to enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Per its website, the clubs provide safe places to learn and grow, ongoing relationships with caring adult professionals, life-enhancing programs and character development experiences.
“Mentoring can be executed in different ways,” said Bryan Granie, Boys & Girls Club assistant director and administrator of the grant. “We guide youth to a positive life through a variety of activities.”
The SMART Moves program teaches children and teens how to say no to risky behavior.
Immokalee club counselors conduct weekly mentoring groups, during which they work in small groups to develop the children’s assertiveness, decision making and critical thinking skills. Discussion topics include social skills, bullying and issues at school.
“The small groups give the youth the opportunity to engage with counselors,” Granie said. “They feel comfortable expressing themselves there, rather than not being heard in a crowd. It’s all about youth development.”
Funding for the grant ends Dec. 31, but the fitness program, which was developed by the Immokalee club, will continue.
“Our programs are tailored to our youth and the specific needs of the community,” Granie said. “Fitness is a homegrown program; the kids wanted to get away from Xbox and computers and get physically active and have fun. We want them engaged at all times.”
The Immokalee program uses the five basic components of fitness: cardiovascular, muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and mind/body, which encourage healthy lifestyles. And because of the program’s popularity, it was increased to twice a week.
A favorite activity is Fitness Monopoly, which is similar to the board game but instead of building houses and hotels, participants build muscle and coordination. An adult tosses large, inflatable dice to determine how many spaces the group must travel around the board, which is a circuit training setup with different activities on each space.
Examples of the 20-second activities included skipping, dumbbell lateral raises, hurdles, step-ups, squats, push-ups and jump rope.
At the Free Parking space, participants had to sit with good posture; at Chance and Community Chest, they took a card and did what was instructed, such as high knees, butt kicks or straight leg kicks. If the child landed on Go to Jail, they had to jog to jail at the far end of the gym.
Each activity, whether Fitness Monopoly, relay races or outdoor games, always includes warm-ups before and stretching afterward.
Patrick Shepard, assistant manager of the Immokalee club, said the children are excited to participate in the program. He said their numbers have been growing and the program is thriving.
“You have a lot of fun and at the same time you exercise and build muscles and burn calories,” said Jaylah Garcia, 9, who attends the mentoring sessions as well. “I love it. I make a difference; one day we walked around and cleaned up trash. I feel like people can follow me and that gives them more ideas to help the community.”