Boys and Girls Club networks with ConU

The kids at the Club call her Diva because it’s all about the clothes. Her own kids call her Mom. Kids from the neighborhood call her at home late at night just to talk out a problem or to hear a caring voice and it’s all in a day’s work – an 18 hour day that is – for Concordia Alumni Tamara Lorincz.

When Lorincz arrives each afternoon at the LaSalle Boys and Girls Club she knows it is not a nine to five job; there are no set hours. She can only guess about the time she will return home.

Her two kids come to the club to see her and help out. It’s all part of the territory for the applied human sciences graduate who took the leap from graduation day to teen group co-ordinator in less than 24 hours.

For Black History Month, the Club in collaboration with several community groups, including Black women on the rise, the Loyola Community Centre, the Maison de Haiti, and several others held the Fourth Annual Celebrating the Richness of Black Culture Day.

On Feb 15, Concordia University provided a venue for families from different areas in Montreal to focus on African, West Indies and American black culture. Over 250 members learned about the richness of Black culture as they participated in map making, puzzle building and food sampling from different cultures of the world.

“The event is just part of our year-long dedication to continuously explore all cultures of our membership,” says Mark Branch, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club. “It is just one of the ways we try to develop respect for each other and their cultures. We do it all year.”

As a LaSalle resident, Lorincz first approached the Club to complete a 16-hour stage for one her courses, and then she remained as a volunteer. By the summer of 2000 Lorincz was hired as the Club’s teen group co-ordinator. “It was my first real job,” she says. “Applied human sciences really gave me the tools to start out in this field and I have applied a great deal of what I learned at Concordia.”

“I was forewarned by my professors in applied human sciences that working with youth would be both rewarding and frustrating,” says Lorincz.

The LaSalle Boys and Girls Club was her first and only stop after graduation. The Club is just one of the 104 youth centres across the Nation that is affiliated with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.

In Montreal there are four centres and there may be more in the future.

“I knew about the Club from my kids. I also live in LaSalle and know the area and the Club always had a good reputation,” says Lorincz.

“Parents and kids have called me at home to ask me questions or to talk about a problem. It all started when I needed to call parents for various reasons and did not block my phone number,” she says, mentioning the many late night phone calls she receives. “This field is not like any other. Working with youth goes way beyond money,” Lorincz says. “My advice to anyone starting is that you cannot come in and work nine to five. You must be available when you are needed.”

Branch, also an alumnus, sat Lorincz down before hiring her and spelled it out. “You have to approach this work like it is a vocation,” he said. “In essence, what concerned professionals really do is, first, make the youth’s life more predictable and, second, develop roles for them through which they can consolidate an identity incorporating something larger than themselves.”

He graduated from the exercise science program at Concordia, began serving youth twenty years ago and like so many, he began as a volunteer. The desire to be of service led him along a career that started as animator to his present position as executive director.

He often jokes that to be a youth worker you are just like the head cook and bottle washer, a jack-of-all-trades. “Today’s youth worker must be able to stimulate interest in teens, encourage personal development and assist them to become contributing members in society, and that means you have to be able to respond to every crisis and concern and be able to do ten things at once,” says Branch.

He has seen a marked change in the attitudes of youth in the last twenty years. “When I was a kid I was told if I did A, B and C, I would get D. Today’s youth have a sense of hopelessness in that they cannot see past tomorrow.” According to Branch, this hopelessness has manifested itself in violence and crime.

One cannot dispute the data. Even though there has been a decline in youth crimes in Canada, a 2002 study released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information concluded that youth violence remains double the rate of a decade ago. It is particularly pronounced in girls, especially in violent crimes where the rate has increased twice as fast as boys.

The rate of young people charged with violent crimes fell one per cent in 2001, the third straight annual decline. However, despite these recent decreases, the rate of youths charged with violent crimes in 2001 was still 77 per cent higher than it was a decade ago.

The increase in violent crime among young people has been much greater than the increase for adults. Since 1988, the rate of violent crime among adults has increased only six per cent. The data may indicate the ups and downs, but front line workers have been sounding off on the problem for the last twenty years.

“It is so much to deal with,” says Lorincz. “There are times when I feel so frustrated because I cannot be there for everyone. My best bet is to listen and offer advice and not give them any B.S.” Lorincz adds that that life experiences are beneficial and important skills.

The ramifications of increased youth violence and crime mean that more community resource workers like Lorincz are needed. As kids are steered more towards community centres the need for more staffing increases.

“In the last five years we have seen about a 20 per cent increase each year,” says Branch. “But this increase has not been matched with an increase in our staff.”

The LaSalle Boys and Girls Club has four full time and seven part time workers and is backed by a fully staffed and committed board of directors. The club relies on over 60 volunteer members, many who have come as part of a university or CEGEP, to clock in over 9,000 hours to help free up the staff to deal with priority issues.

“Without our volunteers our task would almost be impossible,” says Branch. “When it comes to helping our 550 youth members we need every bit of help we can get.”

As membership has increased so has the need for more equipment and new facilities. In July of 2000 the Club launched a Capital Campaign for the construction of a new facility. To date the campaign has raised an amount close to the $2.1 million mark.

Lorincz is excited about the new facilities but she also feels uneasy. “I say thank God for the Boys and Girls Clubs because where would these kids be: sitting in the malls, on the courts unsupervised, or sitting in front of many electronic tools, or using fake I.D. cards to sneak into bars, but if the problem continues to grow we still may not have the resources and that scares me.”

Keeping up with need has kept staff busy. While the club has several intervention programs running throughout the year, there is always what has been called “satellite” projects to help personal development.

As Branch watches kids come to the club and begin to bloom he also knows that maintaining staff and keeping intervention programs running is becoming harder each year.

“I would love to spend all my time with the kids,” he says. “Most days my place is in my office writing grants for funding or talking on the phone with government people.”

Lorincz just shakes her head and understands. “When I want to try something new I have to ask my kids to help raise the funds. There are only so many car wash Sundays or chocolate bar drives I can ask of them.”

“But this is the wave of the future for anyone interested in community social work,” adds Branch.
“But it is required for our kids’ future.”

And that is what it is all about: caring for our kid’s future. Because every kid has potential.

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