On Tuesday, July 31, The Bridesburg Boys & Girls Club was packed with young people doing what they do best — hanging out, and being kids.
They joked about “Philly accents” over famed local fare like cheesesteaks and Tastykakes, and shared their experiences about being in the club, which supports youth worldwide.
The evening was a chance for Bridesburg Boys & Girls Club members to meet other kids with the club in common. Thirteen young people from across the country, as well as Japan and Germany, visited the Bridesburg club as part of their weeklong trip through Philadelphia.
Aged 6 to 18, the 13 visiting youth were celebrating their wins in the club’s Digital Arts Contest. Club technology programs across the country and other nations gave them a chance to showcase their digital expertise, and the Bridesburg club is now ramping up its own digital technology programs.
The winners had been honored the night before at Comcast’s city headquarters, and had been presented with prizes such as digital cameras and laptops to help further their technological ambitions.
At the Bridesburg club, though, no one’s mind seemed to be on glory or prizes.
“Tonight is just a time for them to come and be kids,” said Amy Lamparter, assistant director of public relations for the Boys & Girls Club of America.
Mare Toner, unit director for the Bridesburg Boys & Girls Club, said 15 members of the local club were invited to meet the 13 winners. Those 15 were members of the club’s leadership and community service-focused “Keystone” group, as well as junior staff members and teen members.
Toner said the Bridesburg club is just starting up its Tech Program, which will involve robotics, claymation, music technology and photography to perhaps allow Bridesburg youth to create projects similar to the winners’.
“I’m happy this will give them ‘oomph,’” Toner said. “We’re on our way.”
She said such programs at the Bridesburg club give local youth an outlet and “a home away from home.”
“It’s not the formal setting of school,” Toner said. “It’s more of a family setting. They come here not to be judged, but to be who they are.”
Visiting Contest winners Timothy Bishop, 18, and Allie DeGroot, 15, said their trip to the Bridesburg club was a chance to inspire local members.
Bishop, who now lives in Austin, Texas, was awarded for his music production abilities while living in Germany. His winning entry was an original musical track he had written, mixed and mastered.
He said the Bridesburg kids were very friendly and talkative, and he felt the meeting was inspirational.
“With us coming here and meeting with kids, they’re getting the idea that ‘you can do it too,’” he said. “Everyone clicked. We all came here with same vision and same goal: to learn more about each other, to meet people to help them excel.”
DeGroot, of Wisconsin, won for her creation of a music video about acceptance. As a gay teen who said she struggles with a learning disability and a stutter, she said she wanted to create a video that proves “people like me are just as normal.”
Calling Philadelphia “mind-blowing” and “amazing,” she said the Boys & Girls Club experience is a true confidence-builder.
“I think it’s awesome we can tell them [Bridesburg club members] stories about our clubs,” she said. “All the support and love these buildings give you is spectacular.”
Jessica Kaupp, 17, a member of the Bridesburg Boys & Girls Club for 14 years and a student at Little Flower Catholic High School, said the winners’ visit made her feel like the Bridesburg club was being recognized as something special.
“I’m really excited, because we’re moving up in the world,” she said.
She said in speaking to the visiting club members, the evening became a two-way learning experience.
“We’re teaching them about stuff,” she said, adding that each Boys & Girls Club has different activities, and that fact was a significant talking point that night.
Kaupp said the Bridesburg Boys & Girls club is a second home.
“It’s a place to escape,” she said. “I’ve been here my whole life. I really love my neighborhood.”
Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215-354-3113, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.