By SARAH KLEPNER
After five p.m. on a recent afternoon, a pair of children in red shirts and khakis set a long table with styrofoam plates laden with tacos. Moments later, a dozen or so kids dressed in the same outfits the uniform of the Red Bank Primary School line up for inspection by Natasha Cargill, a teenaged kitchen manager.
It’s clean-hands time at at the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County‘s Red Bank unit, a scene that plays out so routinely that some of the kids continue to absently hold their hands above their heads long after they’ve passed Cargill’s inspection.
Looking on, Christy Crank looks pleased. As the facility director, the 38-year-old borough native sets a welcoming but firm tone for all who step through its doors.
“I see a lot of me in these kids,” says Crank. “When I was growing up, we didn’t have a Boys and Girls Club. We provide a safe space, where there’s no bullying, you get the help you need, and everyone is equal.”
Along with three other staffers an art director, a computer director and a teen coordinator plus four junior counselors, Crank runs an after-school program for 129 Red Bank kids ages 6 to 18, though on an average day she sees about 40 kids, mostly between 8 and 10 years-old.
Kids are bused from the primary school or walk on their own to the building at the northwest corner of Bridge Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard.
Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights are teen nights. “Our teen population varies according to the high school sports schedule,” Crank said.
A typical afternoon means a “power hour” of homework and studies, followed by participation in one of the the club’s programs in graphic arts, the nuts and bolts of computer repair, or some kind of outdoor activity. The kids have dinner before they go home at six.
The club also has a College-Bound program, which provides mentoring starting with high-school freshman as well as workshops, college tours and roughly $14,000 yearly in scholarships.
For the summer, the club is partnering with borough schools to provide a full day of activities including an educational component from July 1 through August 23.
In fact, the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County has been selected by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to pilot “Brain Gain,” a hands-on program designed to maintain academic levels over the summer by focusing on areas such as nutrition, science, history, and literature.
And there have been lots of special activities over the course of the year. In February, 30 or so of the kids had a show at Gallery U, catered by the Melting Pot and Lunch Break.
“It was a wonderful experience for the kids,” Crank said. “Artwork they created was professionally displayed. They got dressed up and brought their families.”
In March, a group of 10 teenage girls from the club attended a private screening of the documentary “Girl Rising” at Monmouth Mall, and were so moved by the depiction of girls struggling for basic education around the world that they wrote letters and sent bookbags and school supplies to girls in Haiti.
Just the other week, the kids who did well in the club’s points system based on behavior and grades got to build their own bikes with race car drivers from Raceway Park in Englishtown. After building them, they got to ride them around the park before the races, an event which was televised on ESPN, Crank said.
“Ms. Christy, my stomach is going boom-boom-boom,” Crank recalled one child telling her as they went out in front of the crowd. “I love to hear them say, ‘I never had this experience before.’ It means I’m accomplishing things.”
To cover costs, all fundraising is done privately, said BGMC executive director Doug Eagles, who oversees operations at both the Asbury Park and Red Bank locations.
With an annual budget of about $1 million, the club and summer camp fees make up about 10 of expenses, while the rest comes from grants and fundraising events, including having a team in the New Jersey Marathon.
The College Bound scholarships are funded by the Melvin R. Goodes Family Foundation.
There is a golf outing at the end of July, and the BGCMC is encouraging supporters to raise funds at get-togethers this summer, in a Summer of 100 Parties campaign.
And community support comes in all forms: in July the Red Bank Kiwanis Club will be painting and installing bookshelves.
The Red Bank unit also has an advisory council, made up of community members and one elected official.
“They help us stay rooted in the community,” said Eagles. “We get the feedback we need to know how well we’re doing our jobs.”