Written by Betsy Abraham Wednesday, 06 November 2013 00:00
It’s not easy being a teenager. There are pressures from school, family, friends, and society. But at The Hicksville Boys and Girls Club, kids don’t have to worry about bullies, tests, family problems, or fitting in. Instead, they can focus on building confidence and being themselves.
“We want this to be a safe, fun place for kids,” says Executive Director Tom Bruno. “It gives kids the opportunity to interact with their peers in a safe area.”
The Hicksville Boys and Girls Club (HBGC) has been in the community for decades, originally operating out of a location on West Cherry Street before moving to 79 Old Country Road, conveniently located just a few blocks away from both the middle and high schools. Bruno has seen thousands of teenagers walk through the doors of the white building since starting as a recreation worker in 1974.
He’s seen not only the club become more ethnically diverse over the years but has seen the purpose of the HBGC change as well.
“In the 70s we were basically here to give out bats and balls and give kids something to do with their time,” Bruno says. “But now, we do all we can to empower these kids to feel better about themselves.”
The club does that by offering different workshops and having speakers come in to talk on issues such as bullying and self-esteem. The staff also plays a huge part, listening to and building relationships with the teens. Teens can come to
the HBGC five days a week afterschool to play sports or videogames, go on computers, or challenge friends to a friendly game of air hockey or pool.
The club also hosts trips throughout the year to enjoy activities such as bowling, minigolf, hockey games and Splish Splash in the summer.
“A lot of the kids who come here are kids who may not fit someplace else, like after school programs or athletics,” said Bruno. “We have a lot of kids who come and have found a place for themselves here, and by taking part in the activities we do here, they build self-esteem and self-worth.”
But the HBGC also puts a heavy emphasis on academics. There’s also a strong tutoring program that goes on every day at 5 p.m. For one hour, students can sit down for a “power hour” where they can receive homework help from staff and volunteer tutors.
“Kids may not have someone at home who can help them with this,” Bruno says. “We’re getting 12 to 15 kids staying every day after the lounge closes for this program.”
And for kids who need additional help, the club also has a one-on-one peer tutoring program, with volunteers from the high school, local colleges and community, who are able to help 35 kids every week.
“These kids are all passing now, and before they may not have been able to say that,” says Bruno.
Bruno got his start in youth services after an internship at the Nassau County Department of Probation. He realized that instead of becoming a probation officer, he wanted to help prevent people from getting to that point. Now, as
Executive Director of the HBGC for over 20 years, he continues his mission of providing a place where teens can feel safe and comfortable.
“(Teenagers) are such a vulnerable population and they need some positive reinforcement and some positive direction. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve worked with over the years, and if it wasn’t for the program I don’t know where they would have wound up,” says Bruno.
Though historically the HBGC has always been free, recent budget cuts from Nassau County and the state made it necessary for the club to start charging for membership. It costs $50 for the summer and $100 for the school year, which includes all programs and activities, including tutoring. The club will be getting back some of their funding next year.
For more information about the HBGC, visit www.hycbgc.com