There was a lot to celebrate on Fifth Avenue in McKeesport on Wednesday, as dozens of local children and community members joined the Boys&Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania for the opening of their new teen center.
The event was also a commemoration of 135 years of the organization’s chapter in the Pittsburgh region.
The McKeesport center is a relocation and expansion of the previous Mon Valley location, and the first new Boys&Girls Clubs opening in Western Pennsylvania since the pandemic.
The newest location is quadruple the size of the former, and characterized as “a place for teens to prepare for careers and life,” offering resources such as financial literacy courses, workforce development and mentorship, and somewhere for youth to feel secure. Financial stipends are also offered to participants, so they don’t have to worry about an after school job.
The new site was established in partnership with UPMC McKeesport and UPMC Health Plan.
Christopher Watts, former participant and current President and CEO of the Boys&Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania, stressed his commitment to the kids and communities of McKeesport and the Mon Valley.
“Moving forward, I just want to share that it’s our intent to work collaboratively with the community to support the kids of McKeesport, as we all know they need it,” Mr. Watts said.
The new location comes at a time when many families in the Mon Valley are struggling. In a 2021 study, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission reported that roughly 1 out of 3 McKeesport residents lived below the poverty line.
It’s also a time where youth participation in Boys&Girls Clubs have declined drastically nationwide – and almost 45 percent decrease since 2019.
“I feel it’s not a coincidence that we’re seeing rising challenges with teens and communities and a drop in participation rates in out of school programs,” Mr. Watts said. “What gives me hope is that the Boys&Girls Club will be a part of that solution.”
“The best part of my job is being with these kids,” said Marquise Wheeler, who’s been leading the Mon Valley center at its previous location since last year. “Our vision is to make sure our kids are showing up everyday, they’re here and they’re safe, they’re learning a thing or two and they’re having fun.”
KaNya Pitts, who has been a Club Teen since last year, said joining the program gave her a chance to go to events like Steelers games and pumpkin picking. But most importantly, she said she shows up because she feels safe.
She also praised Mr. Wheeler for his leadership and his advice.
“We’re around each other from open to close,” Ms. Pitts said.
Sha’ron Cash, who has been a club participant for several years, credited the club for changing his life.
“I used to get into a lot of trouble,” he said. “But when I started coming here, it changed my life and helped me out pretty well.”
View the full article at wesa.fm