Learn & Play: Gene Slay’s Girls & Boys Club
For the past 88 years, Gene Slay’s Girls & Boys Club (GSGBC) has served the same area on the south side of St. Louis. While the nonprofit is a licensed child-care provider in the area, GSGBC has done more than just provide a safe haven for kids whose parents are at work. It has built a schedule for children around the center’s priorities: academics, athletics, arts, health awareness and character-building. “We are really proud to implement these programs for kids who would not otherwise get them,” says director of development Robert Puricelli. “South St. Louis is very underserved, and we are able to offer them critical tools.”
With renovations that allowed it to expand its facility to include girls this past year, the center has been able to extend its reach in the community even deeper. All children age 6 through 18 are eligible to attend as long as they are enrolled in school. A $30 fee is charged each semester, but Puricelli says no child has been turned away. “We are deeply rooted in the athletic component,” Puricelli says. “A lot of kids want to playbasketball or swim. Our facility is phenomenal, with an indoor pool, gymnasium and 6 acres out back to play soccer and flag football—whatever it takes to get them in here.”
Each student is tested to find out where they fall academically. A program then is set up to meet the tutoring needs of each child, and the success is evident. Ninety-five percent of participants advanced to the next grade level this past year.
When Ariel began literacy tutoring, she was not enthusiastic. Learning specialist Carol Mendez would have to coax her into the library, and completing her homework packet was a chore. After four days a week of GSGBC’s rigorous academic curriculum, however, Ariel is well on her way to reading at grade level. Recently, she even brought a book in from the school library that had interested her—that would not have happened even weeks earlier, according to Puricelli.
“We know the stats, and it’s scary,” Puricelli says. “If a child can read at grade level by third grade, there is a 95 percent chance they will graduate from high school.” In the past two-plus years of its focus on strengthening the population’s academics, 87 percent of participants have completed the literacy tutoring program and increased their reading by one and a half grade levels. “We know when they can’t read, they get bored and fall behind,” Puricelli says. “They start skipping school. We understand the need where we are located, and that’s why we have to help.”
With an impressive art program and health curriculum as well, the GSGBC hopes to keep its children’s enrichment plans thriving. The center invested $300,000 in its academic program recently, and a major donor gave $100,000 to renovate the art space. As the needs of the children increase, so do the costs. To help offset the expense of current programs, the center is hosting Club Havana at the Coronado Ballroom in late January. The evening will include a variety of Cuban-related entertainment and food. “We want to honor our students, and we want to reach out to our friends, teach people about our mission and welcome new people on board,” Puricelli says.
Photo courtesy of Gene Slay’s Girls and Boys Club
Gene Slay’s Girls & Boys Club improves the lives of at-risk and underserved youth by equipping them with the skills they need to make good choices and achieve long-term stability and success. Pictured on the cover: Board of Directors president Andy Blassie, Club Havana event chairs Amrit & Amy Gill, board member John Sondag and board executive vice president Jill Slay Garlich with club members. For more information, call 314.655.9008 or visit gsgbcstl.org.
Cover Design by Julie Streiler | Cover Photo by Bill Barrett