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Boys & Girls Club grown-ups bolster mission with training

BIG CYPRESS — Nothing is left to chance when the Boys & Girls Club is charged with the Tribe’s next generation of leaders.

“First and foremost is the safety of the children,” said Robert North Sr., director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Mentoring ranks just as high for North and the club’s 30 managers and counselors from three Boys & Girls Clubs tribalwide.

“When school is out, we are in. We teach them, we entertain them and when they are with us, they are everything,” assistant director Bryan Granie said.

From Aug. 4-8, employee in-service workshops led by Granie at the Big Cypress club headquarters reinforced club values, bolstered safety practices such as food handling and first aid, and launched a first for Boys & Girls Club of America’s 4,000 facilities nationwide – the infusion of ancient teachings gleaned from the Native American programs Fatherhood is Sacred and Motherhood is Sacred.

Created by Albert M. Pooley, a Hopi and Navajo who founded the Native American Fatherhood & Families Association in 2002, the programs strive to strengthen families by laying a strong foundation of direction and purpose.

Dawna Bell, compliance manager for the Seminole clubs, said 643 children ages 7 to 18 in Brighton, Big Cypress, Hollywood and Immokalee are championed by teams of counselors with diverse talents and various college degrees, including art, music, nursing, psychology and criminal justice.

But, as Tribal children spend more time outside their homes at school and after-school activities, additional education is necessary for counselors to support Native culture.

“It’s what separates us from being an after-school program. We are about enrichment,” Bell said.

In recent months, Granie and club managers Stephen Alvarez and Alyssa Payne became certified facilitators in Fatherhood is Sacred and Motherhood is Sacred after attending training in Mesa, Arizona. The program had already been put to work in 100 Tribes throughout Indian Country.

“We went there to learn the concept, own it, bring it back to our employees and then take it to the children,” Granie said.

Alvarez said the program reintroduces the timeless truths that family is the heart of the community and that the Creator is fundamental to Native American cultures. Classes focused on how to nurture, love and discipline children; lead through parenting; adjust attitude; utilize wisdom and knowledge; and act courageously and generously.

“You never know how a child will perceive the smallest act. It could be the biggest annoyance for us to toss a ball around with a kid outside in horrible heat. For him, it can be the love and attention he didn’t get all day long,” Granie said.

Big Cypress counselor Andrea Stinson, who was raised by her grandparents while her mother served in the Navy, said the training drove home the message that Boys & Girls Club employees are never glorified babysitters; they are adult figures who children watch and absorb life lessons through everyday actions. Stinson said she may not have biological children, yet, but when she is at work all club members are hers.

“It’s about how we can better serve the children. I may not be so maternal on the surface, but I have love, perseverance and a generous attitude so that when parents are not around, I give what the child needs,” Stinson said.

Other topics included improving communication with children and youth; understanding the benefits of service and sacrifice; and allowing children the freedom of choice.

The afternoon mini-training at Big Cypress was a precursor to a more comprehensive 12-week course that will be scheduled for all Boys & Girls Club staff later this year.

“Our staff will digest the knowledge and filter it out to the children as if they were raised with it. The best part is that it is Native American based and all derived from Native American ways,” Granie said. “Everything that happens at the Boys & Girls Club has a purpose and an expected outcome – and we are held to high expectations.”

Bell said all three clubs were closed during the week that coincided with Seminole Youth Camp at Camp Kulaqua. The teams spent the first two days reviewing basic Seminole Tribe of Florida employee standards and a full day honing life-saving CPR and first aid skills. On the last day, staff members prepared for the return of children by cleaning clubhouses.