Dozens of elementary school-aged children were buzzing with laughter and chatter after school Sept. 12 at a Boys & Girls Club near the Las Vegas Convention Center.
They’d just received a visit from firefighters, who talked with them about fire safety.
A couple of plastic bins near a reception desk were filled with doughnuts. In a room nearby, staff members helped children with homework. Upstairs, dozens of children were in art and game rooms, as well as a “learning zone” with tables, books and computers.
Maleak Mims, 13, a student at Innovations International Charter School of Nevada, helped younger children gathered around a pingpong table — with plastic cups full of crayons on top — with a fire safety worksheet.
Maleak is among seven teens at the Ralph & Betty Engelstad Club who are volunteering as “junior staff.” It’s the first of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada’s 13 clubs to launch the offering, paid for by grant funding.
The nonprofit announced Sept. 4 that it received a $64,350 grant from the Taco Bell Foundation. Money will be used to create a junior staff program and support an offering that helps young adults as they enter the workforce.
Across Southern Nevada, the Junior Staff program is set to be up and running by mid-October.
With teen offerings, “a portion of the program is we want to make sure they’re on track to graduate,” said Torrey Cole, teen services director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada.
The clubs also support youth in their desired career path, she said, adding college isn’t for everyone.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada serves more than 10,000 children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Junior Staff, a national Boys & Girls Club program, is a work-readiness offering for 13- to 18-year-old club members. It provides hands-on experience and focuses on building work ethic, leadership, and customer and interpersonal skills.
Teenagers must apply to participate and can choose their area of interest. They must devote a minimum of one hour per week.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada aims to have about 125 teenagers — out of nearly 2,000 it serves — participate across all of its club locations.
Teens in the Junior Staff program will essentially be unpaid apprentices, working alongside paid staff members in areas of club operations such as the front desk, kitchen, games room, art room and gymnasium.
Cole said she wants to make the program “effective and fun” for participants.
Grant money through the Taco Bell Foundation will be used for supplies for the Junior Staff program, as well as incentives — such as trips to Six Flags Magic Mountain in California and pizza parties — for participating teens.
The Ralph & Betty Engelstad Club is the only Boys & Girls Club in Southern Nevada without a teen program, the result of a transition in staffing.
Some teens at the club were already volunteering before Junior Staff was implemented.
The club, off Desert Inn Road, typically sees about 135 children from kindergarten through high school each weekday.
Valley High School sophomore Tyrese Jackson, 15, is one of the junior staff members. He has been coming to the Boys & Girls Club for more than two years, he said.
“I like it,” he said about volunteering. “It’s fun.”
Tyrese said he has learned a lot by volunteering at the club, adding, “I used to be very immature before.”
He said the younger children respect and trust him, and come to him with problems.
Tyrese said he hopes his club will have a teen center in the future. He said he likes being with younger children and field trips are fun, but he’d like more people his age to hang out with.
Another junior staff member, Woodbury Middle School eighth-grader Jordan Cobos, 13, has been a club member for four years. He said he likes helping the younger children with homework and especially with using computers.
Junior staff members go around the club asking staff if they need assistance and helping with whatever’s needed, Malek said. He said he enjoys working in the kitchen the most, adding, “I like helping give the kids food.”
Workforce readiness program
The Taco Bell Foundation grant will also support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada’s workforce readiness program. The offering is geared toward 16- to 24-year-olds who are entering the workforce.
The Boys & Girls Clubs provides help with items such as uniforms or supplies youth may need for their new job, or toward the cost of certifications such as through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.