Tucked away in the multi-purpose room of a Mississauga high-rise community, there are little balls of energy bouncing off the walls. This scene repeats itself every week at the United Way-funded program offered by Boys and Girls Club of Peel Region.
Tamika, a mentor with Boys and Girls Club, balances her work, school and personal life to provide a fun and safe after-school program for youth in the community. It wasn’t too long ago that Tamika was one of those young people taking part in the very same program.
“I was six years old when I first went to the program. My mother would drop us off after school,” Tamika recalled. “If we weren’t there, we’d have nothing to do – we’d either be alone at home or out causing problems.”
The centres provided by Boys and Girls Club create safe, engaging environments for youth. With passionate and knowledgeable mentors, the centres become a wonderful asset to the families within the community.
Tamika learned about the impact that Boys and Girls Club can have when she left the programming in her teens. “I had a bit of a rebellious stage,” Tamika laughed. “I was very disrespectful and gave everyone attitude.” After leaving the program, Tamika took a job at a fast food restaurant to make some money. She eventually realized that she didn’t want to stay there.
Reflecting on her life, she decided to go back to Boys and Girls Club to get things back on track. To her, it was a natural decision. “I felt like I left my home. It wasn’t right.”
“People can change,” Tamika reflected. “I changed because of my past experiences with BGC. I was lifted mentally and physically as a person. If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably still be flipping burgers.”
The programs have structure and lesson plans. But it is the life lessons that make the space so special. Children learn how to communicate. They learn how to interact with one another. They learn how to express their feelings in healthy ways. And most importantly, they learn how to be happy.
“I think that’s what the parents appreciate the most; that their children are genuinely happy when they get picked up. It takes a load off of their shoulders because they already have so much to deal with.”
“Everyone around me used to be angry. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I just acted up. But now, I’m completely changed – and it’s thanks to these programs.” Tamika’s experience with Boys and Girls Club has changed her entire trajectory in life.
“One day, I want to open up my own youth centre,” Tamika smiled. “I want to make a difference and help youth find themselves.”