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Participants of Florida Boys & Girls Clubs are achieving higher in school and getting into less trouble with the law.
A new study initiated by Florida TaxWatch, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit research and government watchdog group, examined data between members of Florida’s clubs and similarly situated children who were not members.
Formally known as The Florida Boys and Girls Clubs: An Analysis of Educational, Juvenile Justice, and Economic Outcomes, the study was published on Sept. 26.
Robert Weissert, the chief research officer and general counsel for TaxWatch, said his organization aims to provide taxpayers and policy makers with trusted research by analyzing particular groups that receive public funding.
The Florida clubs receive private and public funding.
“Everyone loves charity, but at some point we have to do independent analysis to see if (it’s) bettering kids’ lives,” Weissert said.
Weissert said the clubs approached TaxWatch about seven years ago. Similar studies were previously conducted over the years, but the most recent one found specific “match pairs” to compare members to.
“The (Florida Boys & Girls Clubs) felt they had a positive impact on the kids they serve, but they wanted something to prove it,” Weissert said.
According to the report, the group of Boys & Girls Clubs members obtained a higher median achievement level in the reading section of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).
The group also experienced a higher level of grade promotion, and a lower percentage of grade retention, dropout and absentee rates compared to the control group.
Finally, 2.96 percent of club members had juvenile justice referrals, compared to the 7.49 percent of non-participant peers.
Taxpayers save more than $9,000 for every student not held back and $5,000 for every child who is diverted from criminal activity, according to the study.
“The study shows that the Boys & Girls Club is a positive investment for taxpayers,” Weissert said. “It not only helps children, but it helps the community as a whole.”
Keith Blanchard, president and chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Alachua County, said the center is open to anyone ages 6 to 18.
Four locations in Alachua County serve about 3,500 children each year and run more than 20 programs. The club offers summer camps, sports programs and after-school programs, which pick students up from 13 different schools in the county.
All kids participate in a “power hour,” where homework and other assignments are completed first. Then children break out into smaller groups based on interests like drama, technology and sports.
The football program is the most popular.
“There’s something for everyone,” Blanchard said.
Bernard Muir, an Alachua County Club alumnus and the director of athletics at Stanford University, said he enrolled in the club when he was 7 years old. He said his parents knew he needed something to keep him occupied after school.
Muir became involved with various sports teams.
“The football, basketball and baseball teams provided a great foundation for me,” he said.
As a club member, he used to sell drinks at the University of Florida football games, which peaked his interest in sports. He also learned about leadership and the importance of setting goals.
“I owe a lot to where I am because of the club,” Muir said.
Although there was no program to help with academics when Muir attended, he said it helped him stay out of trouble by providing outlets outside of school.
“There were people there who really served as guidance counselors to me,” he added.
The club currently offers a Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach program, where at-risk youth are enrolled and tracked in a database.
Participants do not know they are in the outreach program and are faced with the same expectations as other club members.
“We stress that when you walk through the doors you’re treated the same,” said Blanchard said, who has never had a child re-offended or arrested after going through the program.
The findings of previous TaxWatch studies and the draft of the newest study were recently presented to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
With the help of state legislators, the Florida Boys & Girls Clubs received $9 million of state funding.
Though the money will be split among the 40 clubs throughout Florida, the Alachua County Clubs will see a $150,000 increase from last year’s allocation.
Blanchard said this is a “pretty substantial” increase, and the money will help fund programming.
April Ellis has two children enrolled in the club. She needed an after-school program that accommodated her work schedule.
Ellis said both of her kids love playing sports at the club, and she enjoys how structured the environment is. She knows too many children who go home alone at the end of the day, she said.
“It’s a great atmosphere for both of them,” Ellis said. “I know they’re safe.”
Membership for an individual child is $60 a year. Families can enroll for $90 a year. The club also offers scholarships for children who cannot afford the membership.
“You’re just amazed how they turn their lives around and go on and do great things,” Blanchard added.