Boys & Girls Club

Breakfast Club Designed to Connect Youth and Community

Paul Sweich

The Pantagraph

The divide between some youth and adults in McLean County is being bridged by conversation, activity and hope.

It's happening one Saturday a month in an innovative program presented by the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, United Way of McLean County, City Life Bloomington, Not In Our Town (NIOT) and ABC Counseling & Family Services.

"The Breakfast Club was an opportunity to create action to bridge that divide," said United Way President David Taylor.

The idea is to connect youth — who may feel disconnected from the community — with the community through discussions, introductions to different places and careers in McLean County, and community service projects. The goal is to decrease youth violence.

While the program has started small, organizers and participants already are seeing some connections.

"Some of the teens are trying to change," Martilisha Harris, 18, of Bloomington, a member of the Boys & Girls Club and the Breakfast Club, said last week at the Boys & Girls Club, 1615 W. Illinois St.

"They need to join a program to help ’em move forward correctly instead of on the wrong path," she said.

"We're trying to build this community connection," said Tony Morstatter, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club. "To see the kids build a community among themselves — that is, in and of itself, successful."

The Breakfast Club would not exist if not for the increase in Bloomington-Normal shootings that began last year. Many of the victims and shooters were teens and 20-somethings.

Last summer, The Pantagraph interviewed teens, young adults and their mentors at YouthBuild McLean County, an alternative school for at-risk youths, and Boys & Girls Club, which has programs for at-risk, low-income children and teens, about what can be done to stop the violence.

Reports of shots fired continued in Bloomington-Normal this year.

In August, United Way and NIOT hosted a community conversation at Miller Park Pavilion about the violence. That was followed by two listening sessions with young people — one at Boys & Girls Club and one with City Life Bloomington that works with teens on relationship-building and social skills.  

While community leaders described McLean County as caring, friendly and diverse, youth described it as boring, unsafe and dangerous.

"We are trying to bridge that disconnect," said United Way consultant Kathleen Lorenz.

Group Focuses on Bringing Dignity, 'Personal Capacity' to Charity Efforts

Representatives of local non-profits, agencies, and churches joined Monday to explore new ways to help the community’s disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and currently disconnected – and, perhaps more importantly, help them help themselves.

And while one local minister at Home Sweet Home’s (HSH) Forging A Better Way meeting on Bloomington’s east side emphasized “there isn’t a single person here who’s being ‘served,’” he and others agreed those who need essential services and assistance should play an expanded role in determining how local charities structure and administer them.

"The Forging a Better Way task force has outlined the goal of restoring a sense of dignity, worth, and personal capacity to our charitable systems,” concluded participant Luella Mahannah, counseling director of Integrity Counseling, on Bloomington’s west side. “At the meeting tonight, it became clear that we must include the ‘consumers’ of charitable services in developing and delivery of such systems. To not engage those in need will lead to continuing to develop mechanisms that could likely be enabling rather than empowering."

Working off major focus areas identified recently by an HSH steering committee, the group explored issues including:

* Money/Income-related interests (debt reduction/asset building, loan alternatives, fiscal fitness, employment opportunities, etc.). A major focus of the group Monday was the importance of developing low-income finance alternatives to local “payday loan” services that according to New Covenant Community church Social Justice Group representative Pam Lubeck too often “jack up” weekly fees, exacerbating already burdensome debt. That “snowball effect” impacts the financial stability of many families dependent on payday lenders, HSH’s Matt Burgess stressed.

Mid-Illini Credit Union, which operates a branch at Bloomington’s Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, offers low-volume loans free of fees to neighborhood residents, while Next Step, a partnership between Mid Central Community Action, United Way of McLean County, Heartland Community College, and the University of Illinois College of Law provides free services to help individuals and families gain financial independence. HSH’s Faith and Finance classes help the mission’s displaced and disadvantaged clients learn about budgeting, spending, and future saving – Burgess reported eight to nine individuals recently completed a recent class conducted at Bloomington’s The Hub.

Monday’s participants also were enthusiastic about the possibility of “microloan” programs similar to international financing options that can help launch promising but income-strapped enterprises. Such programs have spurred development of small-scale, grassroots local businesses in Africa, Asia, and South America, and participants suggested they could be used as an “incubator” for cooperative neighborhood economic development.

“When you invest in micro-credit, you get your money back,” Lubeck noted.

She and others agreed financial education and awareness should begin early, so teens receiving their first paycheck can start from a position of security. Afterschool programs and school-based curricula and extracurricular activities could help offer that education.

* Health concerns (both physical and mental health, as well as issues relating to substance abuse recovery). Even as new health care law rolls out slowly to improve options for low-income Americans, a number of key issues face disadvantaged communities, including coordination of services, basic transportation to and from health care providers and resources, state funding cuts that endanger preventive programs that help reduce future health care costs, and the impact of mental health issues on employment, housing, and law enforcement/incarceration.

Especially challenging are the issues of health care access – first-time and low-income mothers-to-be currently must travel to Peoria for prenatal services and counseling – and cost – health insurance premiums remain high, and as one participant said, even out-of-pocket deductibles that lower premium costs “clobber” low-income families.

HSH is helping address the needs of essentially landlocked west side residents through its mobile health unit that travels the community twice a month, with two exam rooms. The McLean County Board of Health’s Cory Tello notes that each month, doctors visit Normal’s Fairview School – the area’s currently sole “community school” that serves as a hub for supplemental medical and other area services. She maintained additional community schools could help multiply health options for the Twin Cities.

Fundamentally, Bloomington-Normal’s underserved communities need “a full continuum of services, from pre-birth to senior care,” Tello maintained. Community colleges and area universities could play a role in expanding low-cost or non-profit services while training future providers.

* “Neighboring” concerns – how to be a good neighbor within the community. Local churches, organizations such as HSH the Boys and Girls Clubs, and schools already cooperate in providing outreach and support for disadvantaged youth and others throughout the community, but Monday’s participants saw the need to developing new mentoring relationships, referral options for providing ride assistance for low-income or physically challenged residents, and art programs that could inspire and “empower” young people.

Bloomington’s John M. Scott Health Resource Center handles transit where needed for maternal and child visits; Faith in Action is an interfaith network of volunteers, churches, and community organizations that assist individuals over 60 and their caregivers. The McLean County YWCA’s Stepping Stones program counsels victims of sexual assault, and Integrity Counseling and Heart to Heart offer mental health services at rates low-income clients can afford.

But costs again are a key factor in expanding or even maintaining existing services. John Scott lost its vision program in December, and there currently are no convenient transportation options for Medicaid patients who must travel to Peoria for oral surgery.

NIOT Leaders Nominated for 2015 King Award

Mary Ann Ford

The Pantagraph

Three residents from Normal and three from Bloomington are nominated for the 2015 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awards. 

Adult nominees from Normal are Sonya Mau, Marcos Mendez and Takesha Stokes. Bloomington adult nominees are Anthony "Tony" Jones, Marc Miler and Elizabeth Robinson.

The winners will be determined by the Bloomington and Normal Human Relations Commissions and announced at the 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awards luncheon at 1 p.m. Jan. 17 at Bone Student Center at Illinois State University. 

Mau is executive director and one of the founding parents of the Multicultural Leadership Program, designed to develop diverse leaders. She also is a founding member of the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation's Women to Women Giving Circle that raises money to meet the needs of local women and children and further develop philanthropic leadership skills.

She was the first woman and the first Asian to "break the glass ceiling" and achieve a high management position at Country Financial. She also is a long-time member of Toast Masters International and has been a mentor to numerous others.

                                                                    Marcos Mendez

                                                                    Marcos Mendez

Mendez is chairman of the board for Conexiones Latinas de McLean County and an active member of State Farm's Hispanic affinity group. He volunteers as a basketball coach at the YMCA and as a soccer coach for the Prairie Cities Soccer League.

He was instrumental in planning the first Day of the Dead celebration at the Children's Discovery Museum and secured 300 free passes to ensure all families who wanted to could participate. He also has been involved in the Minorities and Police Partnership which is designed to help foster better cooperation and understanding between the Bloomington and Normal police departments and the Latino community.

Stokes is a volunteer with the Boys & Girls Club, serving as a tutor, mentor and program assistant and was in part responsible for establishment of the Teen Pageant hosted by the club. She also is active in Mount Pisgah Baptist Church including serving on the food pantry team, as church clerk and an aide to the pastor. She also is a long-time member of the Orthodox Woodriver District Baptist Association.

She is first vice president of the Bloomington-Normal NAACP and has served in several other capacities with the organization; and is past president of the Bloomington-Normal Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Jones has coordinated the Bloomington-Normal Cultural Festival; spearheaded the creation of an entrepreneur showcase to inform the community of minority business; and created a monthly fundraising event with proceeds going to different community organizations.

He has served on numerous committees and boards including the Bloomington Human Relations Commission, McLean County Urban League, Boys & Girls Club, Minority and Police Partnership, West Bloomington Revitalization Project, Black Business Alliance, 100 Black Men of Central Illinois and the Bloomington-Normal NAACP.

                                                                           Marc Miller

Miller is chairman of the Not In Our Town finance committee and has been an advocate for the group for more than 18 years, including taking the Not In Our Town Pledge cards into local schools.

He is a founding member of the Pratt Music Foundation and currently serves as president. He also founded the Share the Music program to provide low-cost rental instruments to Twin Cities children who want to participate in band or orchestra but can't afford the rental fees.

Robinson is membership chairman for the Black Business Alliance and is an active member of the Crossroads-Global Handcrafts board. She works with Heartland Community College students, volunteers with survivors of domestic violence through Countering Domestic Violence, and mentors teens, young women and women through the YWCA, Urban League, Junior Achievement and the NAACP.

Youth nominees

Eight Bloomington youths and four Normal youths have been nominated for the "I Have a Dream" award. They are:

Bloomington: Oludayo "Dayo" Ajayi, Markus Brooks, Radience Campbell, Tanmay Shah and Malik Woods, all of Normal Community High School; Jordyn Blyth and Jordynn Palmer, both of University High School; and Kianna A. King, Bloomington High School.

Normal: Lokesh Julakanti and Keerthi C. Amballa, both of NCHS; Kristina Smith, Normal Community West High School; and Imani Gilbert, University High School.