A sense of belonging

Friday, December 19, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:39 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Olivia Johnson joins a group of friends in the back yard of the Boys and Girls Club after school. Nearly every day, the group tries to complete the same task. Johnson and four or five other children try to jump in unison with one long rope while two adult mentors swing the ends.

“One ... two ... three ... go!”

Five bodies bob up and down in the air as the hot-pink plastic rope slaps the concrete beneath their feet. Inevitably, one student jumps too high or too low, and the rope comes to a halt. “Olivia!” one screams.

“It wasn’t me!” she says, puckering her lips and putting her hands on her hips.

A mentor stops the squabbling, and the students try again.

By the time the group has a routine together, they are called inside, and each student files into an assigned room for “power hour,” a time to focus on homework.

Olivia joins Myron Lewis’ room. Mentors circle the room tutoring students in science, math and reading.

As the hour ticks by, students get anxious and wait to be released. Some scatter to play pool, foosball, cards or a game of Mancala. Olivia, however, moves through the crowd of students to a cramped room with a piano. A mentor sits with her for an hour and works with her on piano lessons, something that Olivia wanted to learn at the club.

Olivia shrugs when asked what the club means to her. She isn’t quite sure, but she knows that she likes it there.

Wish Box

GROUP: Boys and Girls Club

SUMMARY: The club provides children, from elementary to high school level, with a safe place to learn and grow. The club offers life-enhancing programs and character development experiences with adult professionals. The mentors and tutors inspire students, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to grow into confident, helpful and strong individuals.

CONTACT: Vera Riechlin, interim director, Boys and Girls Club, 874-1697

1002 Fay St., Columbia, 65201

Checks should be made out to: Boys and Girls Club

WISH: Olivia Johnson, 7, would like a phonics reading book called “Leap Frog.” She also wishes the Boys and Girls Club had a bike that the children could use.

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