Teens are learning leadership and responsibility as part of a new junior staff program implemented at the Boys and Girls Club of Alma.
Elaina Damante, director for the Boys and Girls Club of Alma, was looking for a way to engage teenagers who attended the club after school when she started the junior staff program in mid January, she said.
"The teens here didn’t have anything to do," Damante said.
Damante noticed that most of the teenage kids just sat around the club wearing headphones attached to their phones, texting or listening to music, while waiting to be picked up.
She wanted to find some way to get them involved, while also teaching life skills that would stay with them, Damante said.
Junior Staff is a 10 week program for kids ages 14-18. The participants are asked, not required, to work 40 hours during that time, Damante said.
Damante chose this program over two others - Smart Girls and Steps to Manhood - because it was more cost effective for the club and was not gender exclusive, she said.
Junior staff are expected to complete their job duties, keep up with their work hours and learn new tasks, Damante said. Through the program, teens learn responsibility and leadership skills, she said.
Assisting the regular staff by helping younger children and cleaning are junior staff members’ main responsibility, and they can work any day they choose, Damante said.
The teens particularly like helping other kids with homework in the learning center, she said.
"What I love is seeing them work with other students, seeing them interacting and being a mentor," Damante said.
Damante finds that the younger kids now look up to the teens and go to them with issues, she said.
Junior staff participants often become more independent and take more pride in their work, Damante said.
When she started the program, Damante recruited just six Alma High School students, she said.
As word about the program got around, that number crept up to 13 in just a little more than a month.
Ashley Pennington, 14, signed up for the program a little more than two weeks ago, and said she loved having the chance to work with other kids.
"I’ve always loved to be around children because they’re so sweet and they make a bond with you, so if something’s going on at [their] home they can come talk to you," Pennington said.
Pennington is "not a people person," often preferring to remain on the sidelines, but participating in the junior staff program has helped her become more extroverted, she said.
Pennington enjoys passing that skill on to younger kids, she said.
"I get along with kids really well and I like to help them and make them more outgoing," Pennington said.
Pennington already has taken two younger students under her wing, and though she hesitated to call herself a leader, she admitted that she feels she has potential in that area.
Teens like Pennington are proof that the program has been successful in Alma, Damante said.
"We’ve now created a leader," Damante said. "We’re creating future leaders and that’s what the Boys and Girls clubs are all about."