I was about nine years old when I began going to the Boys and Girls Club. I started at the Parkside Clubhouse. My mother only spoke Spanish, so she enrolled my sister and I primarily for homework assistance. The East Camden Clubhouse eventually became my home, because it was closer to my house.
The primary reason I went to the Club was for homework assistance or “Power Hour”, but it started to mean more to me as I continued to attend. My mother sheltered my sister and I a lot. I believe she was trying to protect us from the dangers of being in Camden city (drugs, violence, etc.). As a result, the only friends I had were my cousins. The Club provided a safe environment for me to be myself. It gave me a safe place to go to play games, jump rope, watch movies and play in the gym. It gave me the opportunity to be amongst my peers, make friends and have a social life outside of my immediate family.
The Club also gave me the opportunity to have a Christmas that I otherwise would not have had. Christmas were not big in my family. My mother never put up a tree, lights or stockings. She had other priorities and could not afford to spend money on “toys.” The Club was a blessing! I remember the Parkside gym floated with families of Club members. I patiently waited in line for my only Christmas gift, and I had a Christmas because of how generous the Club was.
The Annual Teen Recognition Dinner is another example of the Club’s generosity. Not only did the Club acknowledge my accomplishments, but they provided me with a basket of college essentials. This excited me for the college experience.
In 2010 I was awarded Youth of the Year. I went through the job ready program, and worked as a youth worker at the East Camden Club. I spent my summers working the front desk during summer camp. I also participated in smart girls at the Parkside Clubhouse.
Before Youth of the Year, I didn’t think I had a story or a voice. I sat with Dawn Garlic to write various prompts for the State Youth of the Year, and I did not know what to say. I didn’t know what my story actually was. Ms. Garlic patiently sat with me and we worked on it together. It took a lot of vulnerability to share my life with the world, but I was in a safe space and with the right person. Now, I can freely share my story and encourage other students in similar circumstances.
The Youth of the Year program in Camden County and the State Youth of the Year Program awarded me scholarships that helped cover a significant portion of my college expenses for my first year.
The Club provided me with my first job. I decided to leave the Club to work for TD Bank. When I shared this news with Mr. Liss (better known as “Mr. Muff” to all Club members), he was so proud of me that he presented me with an opportunity to be in a commercial for the Boys & Girl Club. This commercial was a big deal. I spoke at various events, and met the South Jersey Market President of TD Bank and Board of Trustees Member, Robert Curley. It was an amazing experience to meet individuals that wanted to hear my story. When I was 17 years old I remember talking to Mr. Muff about all of these experience, and I shared that I wanted to be a member of the Board of Trustees of the BGCCC. It is still a goal that I aspire to achieve.
The Club also provided me with mentors and leaders that I still look up to. The staff at the Club were very resourceful. I recall talking to Ms. Sharnessa about college, and she encouraged me to apply. The staff at the club held me accountable, which made me a very responsible young adult. I know that if it weren’t for the foundation and stability that the BGC provided, i would not be where I am today. I still maintain a relationship with the staff that watched me grow up.
I graduated from Stockton University in 2015 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Accounting. Currently, I am a second year law student at Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, New Jersey. I work full time for the State of New Jersey as a supervisor, and attend law school at night. I am married with a 1 year old daughter.
Before Youth of the Year, I didn't think I had a story or a voice. It took a lot of vulnerability to share my life with the world, but I was in a safe space and with the right person. Now, I can freely share my story and encourage other students in similar circumstances.Becky E.