For organizations like Mick Brunache’s football and enrichment program in Mattapan for youth ages 7 to 17, the experience is about more than the athletics.
“It’s about the mental health piece, the financial literacy piece, reading, and also these workshops that I provide,” Brunache says, “all to build and bridge the gap between different neighborhoods throughout Boston.”
In order to make things work, Brunache and other after school program directors rely on nonprofits like Boston After School and Beyond, also known as Boston Beyond, an organization that helps provide out-of-school learning opportunities to youth across the city.
They’re now getting that help, as 68 after school programs (20 of them in Dorchester) across Boston’s 23 neighborhoods will share almost $2 million in funding awarded to Boston Beyond through a 2022 state grant. The funding “is projected to support 7,178 students in quality enrichment and social emotional learning efforts,” according to a press release last month.
“These activities and programs expose kids to people they might not have met otherwise and help them develop a sense of belonging in the city,” said Chris Smith, president and executive director of Boston Beyond.
The nonprofit works with 450 programs that serve around 25,000 young people city wide. “In essence, the entire city is a classroom for young people,” Smith said. “And what they’re being taught is skills such as critical thinking, teamwork, communication and perseverance. And they’re having fun while they’re doing it.”
In addition to the football programs, Brunache’s Panthers provide mental health and financial workshops on days off from practice and games. With the funding he received, he was able to host a free clinic on March 5 that provided professional trainers and high school coaches to the 168 students athletes who attended.
And he can also feed and provide snacks for his players in Nxt Era Panthers – there is no ‘e’ in the name – through the grant funding as well.
“If you do your research, clinics around Boston cost anywhere between $450 and $500 which is highway robbery to these kids. Because of Boston Beyond we are able to provide free clinics and opportunity and resources,” Brunache said. “The grant that they awarded me made the program affordable. I don’t want this program to ever be expensive.”
Another grant money recipient, Donald “Deke” Houston, brings in kids from across the city to channel their energy toward martial arts and provide a form of anger management and discouraging gang activity at Boxing Power and Fitness in Fields Corner. “You have to broaden your horizons or you’re stuck in the ‘hood,” he says.
Houston spoke to the range of kids who come together at his program. “I have guys who, if you saw them, you’d think that they were professionals. Other kids that come in here and I tell them to wash their hands because it smells like weed sometimes. The Dragonball Z kids and the inmates, they all mesh together here.”
He noted how it’s important to provide kids with quality learning opportunities no matter their financial status and cited his longtime personal motto: “The best brings the best out of the best.”
Houston hopes the funding that Boston Beyond can provide will do just that while encouraging others to recognize the importance of enrichment programs for childhood development year round, especially as Covid-19 recedes.
“The pandemic made it clear to everyone the risks kids face when schools are closed,” Chris Smith said. “That’s always been the case in the after-school hours in the summer months. So, a well mobilized community of programs increases public safety and creates opportunities for school, college and workforce readiness.”
Like Smith, Houston hopes that his program will not only unite its youth but also inspire more community enrichment in place of other negative behaviors that often act as available substitutes.
“Violence is contagious, right?” he said. “But showing love and respect and camaraderie is contagious as well.”