For more than 150 years, the organization that would become the Boys and Girls Clubs of America has been giving our country’s children a safe place to learn, play and grow.
"Not to sound all cheesy, but these kids are the future of where our nation is going and if we’re not paying attention to them, there’s something wrong with us. We do need to make sure that they’re successful," says the organization's Erin Hareng.
The Milwaukeean is now the Director of Events and Fundraising for the Midwest at Boys and Girls Club of America, after working at the Milwaukee chapter for years.
She says Boys and Girls Clubs are still critical in providing structured activities during critical times for kids, particularly during the hours of 3 and 7 pm when juvenile crime rates rise. Hareng also says that 15 million kids are home alone after school.
"We're doing academic programming, we're helping with art programs, we're doing leadership programs, and at the very base of it, we're a safe place for those kids to go," she says.
Hareng says children in the Midwest also face specific obstacles. She cites segregation and poverty as two issues that Boys and Girls Clubs are working against.
"Five of the 10 most segregated cities lie within the Midwest, and we know that in Milwaukee specifically that has a lot to do with the poverty levels," she says. "We're serving the kids who need us the most."
Hareng says Milwaukee has one of the largest and most active chapters, offering more than 200 programs to the city’s children; the Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s current president and CEO even comes from the Milwaukee chapter. It is known for innovation and building effective programs.
That due to Milwaukee being what she calls a "generous town" that supported the organization trying out new ideas.
"We have a lot of businesses and business leaders that partner with us that...allow us to try new programs and allow us to play with things a little bit," she says.
The generosity has paid off; for example, the Spark Early Literacy Program was started in Milwaukee and is now going national. The program offers best practices for engaging young kids who need a little help in reading before the issue affects other areas of learning.
"It's the cool club, so the kids love to come to it," Hareng says. "It's taking these kids and moving the needle."