As we celebrate 80 years of Boys and Girls Clubs here in South Coast BC, we’re sharing the incredible stories of alumni. If you know me well, you’ve probably heard me say: repetition is the key to adult learning. So, as you read these stories, I’ll repeat BGC’s core belief: “every kid is amazing…no might’’, coulda’, or woulda’ been if only…”. It’s worth repeating because in reading these stories, it can be really easy to be distracted by who’s at fault if kids need Boys and Girls Clubs. Yet, what we know is that people struggle for all sorts of reasons, and raising children is difficult. When we stay true to our belief that every kid is amazing, it makes our work of seeing and hearing them so much simpler, because we know the goal is to help their amazingness shine through, and to help them to avoid being defined by the struggles they may have faced in their early years.
This week’s story is the perfect example of how Boys and Girls Clubs held the world at bay for Mandy just when and how she needed it to.
Click here to learn more about BGC’s 80th birthday!
When I think about my time at the Boys and Girls Club, my immediate memory is of feeling safe.
That was a feeling that I rarely felt as a child. As a kid, I cared and worried about everything. Most importantly, I cared for, and fiercely protected, my 3 younger brothers. It was a job that I didn’t take lightly, and a job that I didn’t trust anyone else to do. This meant that as a 7-year-old, I didn’t have much time to feel like a kid.
Inevitably, this protector role that I had taken on had me calling the police one night, which would find us in foster care, and my mom in a court-ordered alcohol treatment centre. This, of course, turned my world upside down. I was separated from my brothers, with my only chance to see them in the grey offices of the Children’s Aid Society under the supervision of strangers. Another type of visitation had us visit each other at the foster family homes. These visits were sometimes even more emotionally charged. I will never forget the heartbreak I felt hearing my youngest brother call another woman ‘mom’ without being corrected, and how patronized I felt when the foster families would tell me to ‘relax’ and ‘not to worry,’ that they were taking care of my brothers. It didn’t matter that they were right, what mattered was that I wasn’t there to take care of them.
One day our case manager took us somewhere different to spend time together. There was an arts & crafts table in the corner, a ping pong table tournament going on, and a full blown floor hockey game in the gym. I remember it was loud, with kids everywhere – but it was happy, everyone was busy, and everyone was smiling. I stood there with my brothers who were wide-eyed staring at the floor hockey game. A staff person came up to us and invited my brothers to join the game. I definitely didn’t want them to leave me, and the whole idea made me tense up. They must have sensed this in me, because in the most casual way, they assured me that ‘everything would be ok.’
That afternoon at a Boys and Girls Club in Ottawa, I got to feel like a kid. I played in the ping pong tournament and cheered and laughed. My brothers did come back, but with smiles on their faces and sweaty from running their hearts out. The change in how I felt after that visit was so noticeable, that even at that young age I knew that was how kids were supposed to feel. Carefree! Safe!
We kept up some of our visits there and I was quickly signed up for as many Camp sessions as possible. Going to summer camp was the first chance I had to do something for just me. No one knew me, or my story, or my worries. I just got to be a kid.
BGC has always held a special spot in my life. I volunteered there in college, and jumped at the chance to work there when the opportunity came up. I know I get to feel a rare feeling of looking forward to my job every morning and to truly believing in its work. Here I am now, a happy and secure adult, with a beautiful family, and my kids can’t wait to go to the Boys and Girls Club. They hear their mom talk about the magic at the Club, how it can make any kid happy. I’ll be sending them to the Club, not because they are worried, or stressed, or need extra support, but because every kid belongs at BGC. I know it will have a positive impact on their lives, just as it did for their mom, and that is one of the best legacies I’ll be able to pass on to them.