The Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester has expanded its youth programs to include more activities for children between the ages of three and five. This move comes as a response to local concern about the lack of local, affordable programming for pre-k and kindergarten-age children in the neighborhood.
The programs will include swim lessons, arts and crafts, and athletics for young children. The Club has also lowered its minimum age for membership from 6 to 5 in order to cater to the needs of children just entering kindergarten, giving them a chance to interact with their peers and their community outside of the classroom.
“There has been more research recently about how important these early years are in terms of development,” said Mark Kinsella, vice president of early childhood education for the club. “Also, there was a concern that there weren’t too many affordable programs in the area for children of that age group. That’s why we wanted to offer more programming.”
Prior to the Boys and Girls Club’s new programs, parents of toddlers often found themselves without a place to take their children for constructive activities.
Kim Denvers was one such parent. Denvers, who lives near Adams Corner and has two children, Sydney, 9, and Liam, 4, used to drive to a YMCA in Quincy to take her daughter to swim lessons.
“I used to have to go there and pay more,” Denvers said. “Especially with the economy the way it is, that’s one thing that a lot of people would just have to stop doing.”
Denvers said that she plans on taking advantage of the new Dorchester Boys and Girls Clubs activities, especially for her son, who previously would not have qualified for most of the club’s programming.
“I’m thrilled,” Denvers said. “I couldn’t say enough about the club.”
Kinsella said that she hopes the new programming brings out more Dorchester residents who would not normally come to the Boys and Girls Club.
“Our goal is to maybe engage families in health living lifestyles. By introducing these children to activities at a younger age, we can do that for everyone.”
The program might also have residual benefits for other children in the community, Kinsella said.
“There are a lot of kids out there who would not normally come to the club because they were at home watching their four and 5-year-old brothers and sisters,” she said. “We want them to come here – a safe place – siblings and families.”