The children flocking around a young volunteer just made Virgil Mullen's day.
Mullen, a unit director of the Harford County Boys and Girls Club based in Aberdeen, had just interviewed a prospective tutor for a new program, a man who volunteered "because he thought he could help out."
The director left the room for a few minutes. When he returned, the volunteer, said Mullen "had these three kids, one of them a bad kid, hard to work with, and he was teaching them to play pingpong. When he left, the kids hung around him, asking, 'When are you coming back?' " Most of the youths who join the club are black children from single-parent homes, Mullen said. "That a white guy connected with them that fast, means they trusted him right off," he said. "It was exciting to watch. It's the sort of interaction we're trying to encourage."
The new club, which aims to help needy children socially and academically, recently got a boost when it received a $14,420 grant from Associated Black Charities. The grant will be used to help the club with a computer tutoring program that administrators say they hope will result in building self-esteem.
"We're addressing self-esteem, tutoring the kids who join the club to help them with academic skills, and therefore self-esteem. The idea is to bring in computers and software along with a tutor, to help the kids with academic achievement," says Peter Dacey, Aberdeen town administrator.
Town commissioners applied for the grant on behalf of the club. The club itself was formed last spring, and the tutoring program began last month.
Originally, the grant money was going to be used to add six computers at Halls Cross Roads Elementary School, which already has six computers. But six more computers were donated to the school privately.
This meant the grant money could go into the Boys and Girls Club itself, presently located at the Grove Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen.
"The kids in this area need so much," says Chip McGough, executive director of the club. "We're dealing with kids who are 80 percent from single-parent families, and the structure in their lives has been nonexistent. We want to give them structure, and, by helping them, choices," he says.
Social activities, such as a snack time and games such as pingpong, along with the tutoring available at the school, can help the students feel better about themselves, he hopes.
"After they've come for several weeks, and you've worked with them, these are your kids," says Mullen.
The students, who pay $5 a year to join the club, must bring their membership card every time they attend.
"They start showing interest and coming more consistently, and their temperaments change," Mullen says. "I've noticed them saying things like 'thank you' more often. There's a noticeable change in their attitudes after joining the club."
At Halls Cross Roads Elementary School, tutoring is offered through the club Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., with two one-hour sessions. The club tutors 24 students a day, and hopes to expand, McGough says.