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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, July 19, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesAMERICORPS, BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS: POWER PARTNERS

AMERICORPS, BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS: POWER PARTNERS

Police records nationwide show that the hours of 3 to 5 p.m. are when most juvenile crime occurs. One of the goals of the Boys and Girls Club of the V.I. is to turn that statistic around by turning the time frame into something positive called a Power Hour.
Club executive director Janet Rommel, who is based on St. Croix, just spent two days on St. Thomas recruiting the AmeriCorps volunteers who are needed to help make it happen.
Rommel and AmeriCorps coordinator James Howell worked out of the Holiday Inn Windward Passage Hotel Thursday and Friday taking applications from prospective volunteers to work on Boys and Girls Club projects in the coming year on St. Thomas.
The Power Hour, an after-school program of tutoring and homework support, is just one of a multitude of club projects. Rommel says she is anxious to find the right people to serve as AmeriCorps volunteers to oversee them.
AmeriCorps is a federally funded national service program started by President Clinton in 1993 to provide organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs with staff they could otherwise not afford. The volunteers receive a modest monthly stipend plus an educational grant of $4,750 at the end of their year of service. They can use the grant to pay off college loans or to finance further education or vocational training.
Rommel, who has lived on St. Croix for three years, says she had visited the islands many times and had often thought about moving here after retiring. Then, one cold Massachusetts day, she decided that was silly. "How did I know I would retire, or when I would, or if I'd even be alive to do it?" she recalls asking herself. On a whim, she answered a blind ad in the St. Croix Avis, and then forgot about it – until she got a reply from the Boys and Girls Club about its need for a St. Croix director.
"I have a 30-year background in working with children," she says, "so I made the move."
Rommel doesn't look much more than 30, herself, with her abundant long, auburn hair. But her obvious knowledge of children and compassion for their care attest to long experience.
However, she can't do it by herself. So, she has been looking for about 18 good men and women to run the new club programs on St. Thomas, at the Bovoni and Kirwan Terrace housing communities. It's a lot of work, she readily tells applicants who come in with the notion that they can just help out after school and weekends.
"That's just not the way it works," she says. The volunteers go to the children's schools during the day to consult with their teachers. They are always busy setting up new programs, and yes, they work on weekends, too.
Asked what qualities she looks for in a volunteer to work with the youngsters, Rommel answers without hesitation. "When someone says ‘All they need is love,' a flag goes up," she says. "They need much more than love. They need structure, boundaries, lesson plans." These are young people who may be disadvantaged, who may be at risk for joining gangs, she says, and the club offers them something better – an opportunity to grow.
So, she looks for a person who is creative, has a high energy level and can be flexible – and who also shows compassion. Special skills are a big plus – "anyone who can teach swimming, dancing, sports, any kind of educational skills." She says one former volunteer was a graduate of the prestigious Parsons School of Design.
This year's AmeriCorps recruitment efforts have attracted more male than female applicants. Ranging from about 18 to 24 years of age, they include college students and those working on their GED.
The St. Thomas volunteers will work closely with the Beacon Schools after-school mentoring program and will utilize the Safe Haven area of the federally funded Weed and Seed program at the Bovoni housing community.
Boys and Girls Clubs provide help in almost every aspect of a young person's life, Rommel says. The clubs are open to any child, including those who "may be in danger of acquiring, or have already acquired, unacceptable habits and attitudes, as well as those of good character."
The list of duties for volunteers looks overwhelming. The 22 items include visiting Head Start centers, attending school PTA meetings and working with parents. But the main responsibility of the volunteers, Rommel says, is to work directly with the children – tutoring, monitoring progress and helping high-risk youngsters who need individual attention.
When a student gets out of school around 3 p.m., that high-risk time, Rommel says, just being there to say, "Hi. How was your day? Was everything okay at school?" is important.

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