It’s a sanctuary. It’s a family.
The Boys and Girls Club of Youngstown is a place of refuge and safety for youths age 6 to 18 from the sometimes scary and hungry world that is Youngstown’s South Side.
Every day after school from 3 to 7:30 p.m., 75 to 100 children show up to unwind, hang out with friends, get help with school homework, use computers, shoot some hoops, participate in the popular and fast-growing drum line and get supper at the club, 2105 Oak Hill Ave.
It’s not just a cold sandwich and some chips. It’s a catered hot meal, said Anthony Perrone, club executive director.
All for $7 a year.
“During the school year, they get breakfast and lunch at school, and we’re giving them supper,” Perrone said.
“It’s a very sad and real situation; but it’s an absolute fact. I guarantee if we didn’t close at 7:30 p.m., we’d bathe some of them and put them to bed,” he said.
Perrone is a 1990 graduate of Niles McKinley High School, and in 1995, he earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Bowling Green State University. He is former director of the Trumbull County YouthBuild program and was vocational coordinator at Life Skills of Trumbull County.
“For me as an educator, the club is another form of education,” Perrone explained. “I think it helps the kids be more successful in the traditional classroom. I want to go into a classroom and be able to pick out a club member. They are expected to act appropriately and respectfully.”
Club members Breasja Jones and Precious Boone, both 14, are members of the drum line’s dance line.
“It’s fun, and it gets you in shape,” Breasja said of the dance line. “I plan on going to college and study music, and this will help.”
“The dance line is great. I love doing it,” said Precious. She has been a club member since she was 6 and has learned karate and participated in many other activities.
“It gives you a place to go after school and keeps you off the street,” Precious said.
“We’re like a whole family here,” Breasja added.
To be a member, all the children have to do is show up and follow the rules.
“They don’t wear hats. They don’t wear pants around their rear ends. They introduce themselves to guests, and it’s ‘yes sir and no sir,’” Perrone said.
“We don’t tolerate bullying. The members treat each other more like siblings. There is some teasing, but they know if there is ever a threat made, the person who made the threat is out,” said Perrone, who became executive director in March 2010.
The feeding program, along with basketball, and now the drum line, are big club draws.
“The benefits to the children are incredible. It is a secure haven where they can get help from the staff, paid and volunteer, with homework or just someone to talk to,” said Ronald James, club board president.
The progress of the drum line, recently developed by a volunteer, Paul Weston Jr. of Youngstown, is amazing, said James, in sales and membership development with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
“I do this for the kids ... just to try and help keep them alive,” said Weston, himself a musician who has developed drum lines at other organizations in Youngstown.
Since its inception in August 2011, the drum-line group has grown to 48 regulars, and Weston said he is confident it will have 100 members by spring.
“It’s a process. I show them some beats, teach them cadence, and then show them what notes they are playing and let them do it. Once they like it, they are hooked,” Weston said.
He said the drum line needs drums and uniforms and flags for the flag line.
“We need a set of quads [four tuned-drums], but any drums anyone wants to donate I’ll make into something the kids can use. I’m so proud of them; it brings a tear to my eye to see them perform,” Weston said.
“We’d love to have more volunteers for the program. That’s one of my goals,” James added. “I’d like to get older kids in, too. The people you associate with are the people you go with.”
Board Member Kathleen Mumaw said her interest in the Youngstown Boys and Girls Club was triggered by her mother-in-law, Lois Mumaw, who was a board charter member.
“My husband and I saw her participation and all the good the Boys and Girls Club could do, and I kind of picked up the baton,” said Mumaw, associate professor of accounting and finance at Youngstown State University’s Williamson School of Business.
“We have adults come back and say that the Boys and Girls Club changed their lives,” Mumaw said.
For Perrone, the job has just begun.
There are about 4 acres behind the club on which he envisions putting a ball diamond and soccer and football fields, sort of his personal “Field of Dreams.”