Today’s Club Story comes from Tiffanie Panagakos at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine. When I found out she ran a Newspaper Club, I HAD to learn more. Turns out she is doing all kinds of amazing things in Maine, so this won’t be the last time you hear from her!
First, can you tell me a little bit about your Clubs?
I oversee two Clubhouses both in public housing, and we serve about 100 kids a day between them both. We serve many members of different cultures so that is pretty cool (Iraq, Somalia, Russia, Sudan and so many more) and we rely on programs to keep the club fun and exciting. We offer 2 choices per day, which means we have anywhere from 4-6 programs running each day and some free choice times as well. We are open from 3-6 pm at both sites during the school year and 1-4 pm during the summer, with our Brain Gain Read in the summer from 12 – 2 daily. Our kids range from 5 – 13 mostly, but we have a few teens that do Jr Staff, Keystone and Torch Club.
Where did you get the initial idea to start a Club newsletter?
I came up with this idea thinking it would be great for kids to read, write and get the word out about our Club. It was something I started to try to recruit members and it worked! I had some members go out recruiting and getting members interested in joining Newspaper Club, then we started getting kids to sign up for many other activities through the paper like field trips, ice cream parties, giveaways and so much more. As it got going, other staff said they wanted to take part so eventually I passed it along to other staff who were interested in continuing the paper. It has come and gone a few times depending on the staff. But the kids love to be part of this, they really enjoy interviewing members for special write ups. They’ve drawn their own comics and even put some jokes in there! It can be whatever you and your members want. Parents also enjoyed seeing what is going on at the Clubs this way as well.
How does Newspaper Club work?
This is staff-led. I give them the ideas and topics and they run with it, then we all sit down and work on it on the computers to format it. This activity runs one to two times per week for 1 hour at a time and it takes about 3 weeks for it to get ready for distribution. I would pick a few kids to walk around the Club and ask questions to kids. For example, “ Can you go find out what everyone’s favorite snack at the Club is?” They write it down and that becomes one of the articles about snack at the club and what they want. The kids work on the drawing of the comics, I also have a highlighted member of the month that may go in there and we talk about the member a bit with a picture and all their accomplishments. I usually keep it a small group like 6 members at a time as it can be hard keeping things all in order.
How does a program like Newspaper Club help your members achieve great outcomes?
Our members use Newspaper Club to meet our priority outcomes by writing, reading, using the technology to format things and learning how to follow directions. This has been great on their creativity side as well, as they name the paper, help with all parts of the distribution and their names are printed in the newspaper as well. We also had the staff from our real local newspaper come for a visit and do a presentation at the beginning so kids could ask questions. That was great and fit our career development area of learning.
It took on another life when you had a staff member who worked for a newspaper. How and why do you empower your staff to develop programming that aligns with their interests?
I am a firm believer when staff do something they like, they tend to be more engaged and seem to much more positive. They take pride in their work and in this case it seemed to work very well. Sometimes staff need a push as they love what they are doing they don’t always know how to execute everything, so I as Unit Director would step in and help out any way I could. The staff would check in with me weekly to make sure they are on the right path.
You told me that you have to get creative with programming. Why is that so important for your members?
Being in a small unit, we don’t have a pool, gym or any other fancy anything. We are in a housing unit and have converted it to a great play-place. We want members to come and have fun and learn at the same time, so our staff have to get creative to make our activities FUN! Each Staff is assigned a topic and they come up with the fun, they need to be creative because if it’s not FUN the kids won’t come. We offer many cool activities like Lego Robotics, Knitting Club, Healthy Habits Cooking Club and a Soccer Club outside when the weather is good.
Tiffanie has worked with children for over 30 years, with 11 of them at the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maine. She is a Learning Coach, National Trainer, and in what little spare time she has, LOVES the beach!