Boys & Girls Club

Teen programs grow in Middlebury

by Lindsay Saunders

Fall is here and in the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center that means one thing – an exciting new schedule of programs and events for teens! Currently, the club’s teen center is open daily for middle school and high school students after school until 8 p.m.

This fall, teens have the opportunity to plan and attend weekly events as a part of #WeOwnFriday, a national teen initiative of Boys and Girls Clubs of America. In Middlebury, #WeOwnFriday events typically involve tailgating before home varsity football games or traveling to other clubs in Goshen or Nappanee to join other club teens in tailgating before games.

“Lately, we’ve see 11 to 13 teens attend tailgates, but anyone can come join us,” said Rhonda Eicher, who has been the Teen Programs Coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club since 2015. “We had a total of 40 attendees at our county-wide tailgate for the Northwood vs. Goshen game in Nappanee.”

Leadership development, college preparation, and so much more
In addition to organizing fun social events for teens, Eicher and the Boys and Girls Club team focus on planning opportunities for teens to develop as leaders and achieve academic and personal success.

“We have a community service trip planned for Fall Break this year,” Eicher stated. “The project is located in Ann Arbor, so while we are there teens will also tour the University of Michigan.”

In addition to trips like this one, the club’s teen program offers an annual Spring Break College Tour which provides high school students the opportunity to visit a variety of different education institutions to explore options for post-secondary education. Each year, one high school student is also selected at the club’s “Youth of the Year” and is eligible to receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Boys and Girls Club.

“Youth of the Year is Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s premier recognition program for teens,” explained Eicher. “Candidates are evaluated on an application packet, speech, interview and essays and the focus area of the competition is character and leadership.”       

The club’s Youth of the Year contest is currently open and students can begin applications any time.

Growth through hands-on participation
The club’s teen center serves an average of 50 teens every day and this group differs from day-to-day. Eicher attributes much of the growth in the teen center to the role that teens are encouraged to take in planning and guiding teen center activities.

“Teens have been involved with planning events and activities, such as the location of our community service trip and college visit,” she said. “Teens are currently helping to plan a county-wide Regional Keystone Conference and are encouraged to consult with their peers for ideas.” Keystone is a Boys and Girls Club leadership group that serves teens from around the nation.

When asked about her goals and vision for the teen center, Eicher’s response is inspiring:

“My ultimate vision for the teen center this year is to develop highly engaged teens. It’s great to have high attendance, but I want to see all teens who attend to be involved and engaged in something they enjoy – I want to see them find their passion and truly benefit from all the club has to offer.”