Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club 48 Ellis Avenue

Throughout the Tour, the four of us have had the opportunity to connect with like-minded movements and local businesses in the city. The Tour started out as a way for us to get to know Hamilton better by being tourists in our own city and in turn, sharing our adventures along the way. Little did we know that we would become part of a movement already set in motion, striving to change notions and assumptions about the city and highlight both well-known spots and hidden gems in the city. It is safe to say that we’ve managed to accomplish this over the past year and the Tour has grown into something bigger than we’d ever imagined.

The sense of community in Hamilton is something to be admired and a quality about the city which the four of us have experienced and developed a greater appreciation for. Just look at events around the city, like Art Crawl, where people have come together to support one another and #HamOnt’s presence on Facebook and Twitter (where you’ll find the latest news, as well as often hilarious yet insightful conversations), as well as blogs such as ours.

Here at the Tour, the four of us have always had an interest in making a difference and giving back to the community and this is certainly reflected in our personal and academic endeavours. I personally have been able to experience this through various volunteer experiences, from volunteering as an ESL tutor at the Hamilton Public Library to helping out with SISO’s (Settlement and Integration Services Orgazation) Host Program. This has also led me to pursue international internships in South Africa and Tanzania in order to define my academic and career path, as well as gain new knowledge and skills to bring back to the local community. Along the way, I have discovered that in order to make a change, you need to, as Mahatma Gandhi once expressed, BE the change.

As we mark the Tour’s first anniversary, we are excited to be branching out by delving into the non-for-profit sector to learn more about people in our community who are raising awareness and giving back and in turn, encouraging others to lend a helping hand. Kristin and I had the opportunity to visit the Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club (one of three locations in Hamilton) where we met with Lisa Valvasori who is in charge of Community Relations. It was March Break and it was the perfect time to drop by because things were in full swing! Lisa was excited to show us around and took us around the building where we got to see the kids in action and learn more about the club and their work in the community.

The mission of the Boys and Girls Club is to “provide a safe, supportive place where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life.” This is certainly evident in the number of programs offered for all age levels. We had a chance to pop into the games room, computer room and creative room where kids can drop in after school. The computer room was buzzing when we popped by and it was great to see the kids having fun, whether it be surfing the net, working away on schoolwork, or editing resumes and applications. The games room has a wide variety of games, such as billiards, ping pong and foozeball, a little something for everyone! The crafts room is a great place for kids to get artsy. With all three rooms located in the same hallway, it must be hard to choose which room to hang out in!

The club also focuses on supporting kids academically and has an academic support program where kids and teens can drop by for homework help. The Boys and Girls Club believe that children can have fun while learning and offer fantastic resources to ensure this. There are also Youth Development Opportunities for older children and teens such as the Youth Leadership and Empowerment Program, as well as resources for job searching and resume building. There is definitely a sense of growth in the programs where kids can realize their true potential.

From there, we made our way to the gym. Lisa explained how the divider in the centre of the gym was so helpful with different programs going on in the same place. Kristin and I found ourselves feeling a bit nostalgic as we walked along, thinking back to gym class in primary school. The club prides itself on promoting a healthy and active lifestyle and has a number of programs to employ this. Their “Let’s Get Moving” is a free program aimed at promoting active living and takes place at community centres and schools. The Boys and Girls Clubs also have recreational activities, such as karate, dodgeball, hockey, soccer and swimming geared towards keeping kids fit and making sure they have fun. We also got to see the swimming pool and Lisa pointed out how great the open window is, not only for safety, but for parents to watch their kids swimming. There are also programs for adults and seniors to keep fit, showing how far-reaching the Club is, extending support to the wider community. The club also provides healthy, nutritious snacks in keeping with their healthy lifestyle theme.

One of the highlights was our visit to the Early Learning and Child Care Centre. Walking around these rooms reminded me so much of kindergarten, from the bright colours to the kids’ artwork to the toys scattered on the floor and a railway track set up. Watching these kids brought a huge smile to my face. It’s amazing watching how much joy kids get out of the smallest things and the Club certainly fosters a safe, warm, welcoming environment for children to grow, learn and have fun.

Photo courtesy of the Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club. From left to right: Kristin Archer, Kayla Williams, Randy Coburn (Leader in Training), Nicholas Roque and Avishka Juta

After the tour, the three of us sat down and chatted more about the Boys and Girls Club and the community in Hamilton. It’s amazing how much outreach and support the Club provides not only for the children, but for their families. Oftentimes, the parents feel as though they cannot provide for their children and the Club is so supportive in helping them out and extending assistance to the parents.

As well as offering camps and activities at their own centres, the Boys and Girls Club also provides opportunities for kids to venture out, whether it be on day trips during March Break to the Toronto Zoo to attending Hamilton Ti-Cat and Hamilton Bulldogs sports games, as well as attending overnight camps such as the Tim Horton’s Children’s Camp – all fun ways for kids to get out there and explore. Kristin and I were also struck by the sense of community and family within the Club itself. It is not just a club, it also becomes a home. A number of children who attend at a young age continue to be a part of the Club as they grow up and pursue university, whether it be as a volunteer or camp counsellor. This sense of continuity shows how integral the Club is a part of their life. It’s neat to think about generations of families that attend the Club; parents bringing their children to the Club, to a place they grew up in.

You may recognize a few names amongst the Club’s Alumni, including Former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps and Canadian Idol winner and singer-songwriter Brian Melo. A former member of the Club, Brian Melo has used his newfound fame and voice to bring awareness to the wonderful work done by the Boys and Girls Club. Kristin and I were excited and pleased to learn about the Brian Melo Scholarship which “covers guitar lessons, vocal lessons, and music lessons for Boys and Girls Club members who otherwise would not be able to afford lessons on their own.” Music is a central part of the Tour, so to learn that a fellow Hamiltonian wanted to share his own passion for music and ensure children could in turn explore theirs, was inspiring.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the Capital One Race For Kids, taking place on June 2nd, which the staff at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hamilton are busy gearing up for! The Race for Kids is an fun, Amazing Race-esque challenge around the city where teams of fives must travel to checkpoints and complete tasks to move on in the race. Teams must fundraise a minimum of $350 to participate. To learn more about Race for Kids, check out Race for Kids.

A huge thanks to Lisa for showing us around and sharing with us the work that the Boys and Girls Clubs are doing! The Club is most definitely a good place to be.

xoxo Avishka

Kristin Archer is the creator of I Heart Hamilton (www.ihearthamilton.ca), where she has blogged about experiences around her hometown since 2011, growing a social media presence along the way. Encouraging locals to “be a tourist in your own city,” she promotes arts and culture across her various social media platforms, blog, and weekly radio show on 93.3 CFMU.

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