Written by Mary Ellen Porrazzo Friday, 02 March 2012 00:00
“Coming to a place like this builds self-esteem,” executive director Tom Bruno said in an interview last Friday. He cited the recreation program and Power Hour as just two elements of the club that do just that.
Athletics, a proven confidence builder for any age, is a popular part of the day, not only for the opportunity to participate but – as Bruno said – for the positive feedback with every basketball, baseball or other sports outing throughout the year. This day, dark and rainy and unusual for this winter, found the basketball court quiet. But Bruno said it’s been one busy place during these mild winter months.
“I have a couple of good interns,” he said with pride. Five C.W. Post Criminal Justice students, four men and one woman, “Come three or four times a week, as often as their schedule permits,” and play soccer, football, and other sports to help the club’s young athletes fine tune their skills. Besides being role models, the college students serve as tutors because academics is another major part of the club’s mission. Power Hour, between five and six o’clock Monday through Thursday, is devoted to studies, when students mentor each other and tackle homework together.
Bullying cannot be successfully addressed without the attention of parents. “Parents are key,” Bruno said. “It all starts with the parents. They have to be able to see their child has changed.” Coming home from school in “disheveled clothing” or “not wanting to go to school at all” are two red flags to watch out for. Being receptive to a child’s concerns and listening are also vital. Once the child confides in the parent, Bruno urges the parent to go to school authorities, who are required by law to act.
If bullying is witnessed in a public place, such as a mall, Bruno acknowledged people may be reluctant to become involved but he suggested contacting mall security to intervene or, if necessary, call the police.
The tough fiscal times have taken a toll. “Foundations are giving less,” said Bruno, but quickly added, “The economic climate has impacted all human services, not just us.”
He made clear the club’s dedication to addressing the problem has never been stronger. “I will not tolerate bullying,” he said firmly. “Kids come here on the assumption that this is a safe place.”
The warm, friendly, family environment the club provides makes it clear this is more than just somewhere to go after school. Walk past the basketball net and picnic table in a parking lot framed on one side by colorful posters celebrating friendship – perhaps the friendship that resides inside – and you open the door to a two story house on busy Old Country Road, just blocks from the High School and Middle School, that is full of youthful energy after school each weekday afternoon
In his upstairs office, as the downstairs recreation room hummed with activity, Bruno spoke of the greatness the club inspires in every student who passes through.
“Kids have to feel good about themselves,” Bruno said.
The club’s call to greatness is contained not only in its athletic and academic programs that build character and confidence, but also in the framed posters that line the walls of its rooms. One poster depicts churning seas surrounding a lighthouse, its beacon light flashing. The inscription: “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
While bullying may not be new, it shows no signs of going away.
“I think all of us at some point have been bullied, but not to the extreme as now. More and more kids are being brutalized. Between the media, Internet, texting … there are so many ways now,” Bruno expressed.
This last day of the school week found a recreation room filled with young people studying or reading on cozy sofas, playing pool or other games or socializing with friends. “Hi Tom,” said a young man who noticed him passing by as other students stopped their activities and smiled. In response, came a greeting from the executive director that was as warm as the day was cold.
“Bullies are cowards,” Bruno said, adding that often “they are people who have been bullied themselves.”
People who dole out cruel behavior “have to understand how they would feel if they were being bullied,” he said.
It comes down to The Golden Rule, according to Bruno, “Treat people the way you would want to be treated.”