On Monday, September 8, U.S. Senator Tom Carper sat down with the staff of the Greater Milford Boys and Girls Club to gain insight into the programs offered at the club. Senator Carper’s wife, Martha, recently stepped down as the Chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of Delaware. Talking with Tod Van Eyken, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club, and his staff for approximately one hour, the Senator asked many questions, especially about how to provide parents and children with the tools they need to succeed.
Sarah Ziccarelli Smith, the Aquatics Director for the center, said that the pool is open during the day so that adults may use the facility and that the pool is also the home location for the Milford High School Swim Team, an athletic team that Ms. Ziccarilli Smith helped to form when she was in high school. In addition, the Boys & Girls Club has their own swim team, the Marlins. The organization also offers swimming lessons for all ages.
“We had a student at Milford who drowned a several years ago,” Ms. Ziccarelli Smith explained. “He went into the river after a basketball and drowned while kids stood on the shore and watched helplessly. After the tragedy, a health teacher at Milford School District and I worked together so that twelve high school students from her health class could take swimming lessons. Three of those students were there when Deejion Fullman died and had to watch helplessly because they were unable to swim. All of them can now swim thanks to this organization.”
The Richard M. Johnson Aquatics Center is a six lane, 25-yard pool with competitive starting blocks and a state-of-the-art timing system. The Richard Y. Johnson Aquatic Center is also home to the Milford High School Buccaneers Swim Team, the Club’s own Milford Marlins Swim Team and is the only Boys & Girls Club in Delaware to offer swimming scholarships through the Michael Phelps Foundation.
The Greater Milford Boys & Girls Club also works with local schools, bringing special needs students to the club as part of their physical education requirement as many people with special needs are unable to participate in traditional physical education classes.
“People have no idea of all the services the Boys & Girls Club has to offer,” Senator Carper said. “Every club I have visited has found a way to provide outstanding services for kids in their area. In this case, you are not only offering educational value, but helping to make kids safer through your services.”
Mr. Van Eyken explained to Senator Carper that the club is also addressing the need for activities for teenage children in the area. Taking Initiative Teens Acting Now (TITAN stands for) is a program that offers a safe atmosphere for teens to interact with other teens on Friday nights between 7pm and 12 Midnight. The youth are able to enjoy the swimming pool, basketball courts, fitness center, arts and crafts, open gym and the gaming room.
“By the fourth week, we had about 100 kids from as far away as Seaford and we now serve over 120 teens,” stated Mr. Van Eyken. He feels the club is serving teens in a way they had not been in the past. Mr. Van Eyken said that the program has been so successful, the club has opened the gym up for teens on Wednesday nights and there are currently 35 to 40 teens participating on that evening.
Senator Carper also talked to Christine Handy, Childcare Director for the Milford center, about the early childhood program at the Boys & Girls Club. Ms. Handy explained that the facility was a Star 3 facility when she came on board and that through hard work she was able to bring the facility to a Star 5 level. Delaware Stars for Early Success is Delaware’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) administered by the Delaware Department of Education. The program is designed to assess, improve and communicate the level of quality for early care education with the goal of investing in participating programs to increase access to high quality care for children, especially those in low-income homes. According to the State of Delaware Office of Childcare Licensing, the Boys & Girls Club program is the only five-star rated program in Milford.
“We worked with our current staff and based training on observations of areas that needed improvement,” Ms. Handy told Senator Carper when he asked what advice she could give other clubs who are looking to reach that level. “My biggest advice is to remain calm and dig into all the information yourself. You have to work to gain knowledge so that you can use that knowledge to improve.”
Mr. Van Eyken explained that the center worked closely with the Milford School District to develop a pre-school curriculum that would work well with the curriculum taught when children reached Kindergarten.
“The Boys & Girls Clubs in this state are very important to me, especially after my wife’s involvement,” Senator Carper said. “You are to be commended for your hard work and dedication to the children of Milford and surrounding areas. You do this as your life’s work and on behalf of the kids you have helped, I thank you. Many of these kids are good kids, but they do not have a positive role model that they need to succeed. The Boys and Girls Club gives them that.”