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​​Wallingford Boys & Girls Club Receives Program Excellence Award

Wallingford Boys & Girls Club has received the prestigious 2015 Merit Award for Program Excellence in the Arts Category from Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). The award was recently presented by Jim Clark, BGCA President, during Boys & Girls Clubs of America's 109th National Conference in Chicago.

Merit Awards for Program Excellence, are sponsored by MetLife Foundation and presented annually to outstanding programs developed and implemented to lead youth to great futures at Boys & Girls Clubs across the country. Each Club honoree also receives a $2,500 award.

Each year, hundreds of entries are submitted in Boys & Girls Clubs' five core program areas: character and leadership development; education and career development; health and life skills; the arts; and sports, fitness and recreation.

"We felt strongly that we needed to focus on the Arts category for our program entry to promote academic success for our members," said Meghan Sweet, Wallingford Club Executive Director. "Kids seem to learn better when they are presented with a visual or are able to participate in a tactile activity. We created our Iconic Images Explorers Program knowing it would be ideal for this."

The Iconic Images Explorers participants met weekly, led by Program Director, Eric Kirby. They re-created classic photographs, paintings and media images.  The program is a multi-step process that allows for hands-on discovery and opportunities to participate in a wide-range of different art forms. It provides lessons in history, civics and media.

"Club members are bombarded with images all day from social networks, cell phones, TV and computers," said Sweet. "We wanted to help them slow down and look at images in a new light with beauty and journalist significance. This program has given our members a chance to discuss why or why not an image should be considered important or iconic."

This program creates the type of supportive learning environment which is highly beneficial for our Club members," said Kirby. "They engage in both individual and group work. Youth are given the chance to both lead and work together as a team toward specific goals while having their voice heard in the process."

This program brings forth a variety of historically significant images and the kids discuss which ones they know, what they think they mean, and which one they want to re-create."

"This provided a great opportunity for Eric and the Club staff to educate kids on events and artists they may have not have previously known," said Sweet. "Eric worked tirelessly to put this together and the outcome was spectacular."

Club kids were asked questions like: what do you think the photographer was thinking when he took this?; why do you think this image resonated with the American people?; and what do you think the Mona Lisa was thinking about? 

"These questions can inspire tremendous interest and debate," said Sweet. "In essence, we aren't just promoting artistic skills with this program, but giving our members better skills of how to digest media which will be valuable as they continue to navigate through the world."

After the Club kids discuss and decide on an image to re-create,  they  researched it to ensure that they understand its origins.  When members chose to re-create the famous "We Can Do It" Rosie the Riveter poster, most of them assumed this image came from the 1970s.  They were interested to learn that the image was actually from a government campaign in the 1940's to recruit female workers during WWII. The image promoted the fictional character of "Rosie the Riveter" as the ideal woman worker: loyal, efficient and patriotic.

To emphasize the significance of each image, participants did a related learning activity. One such activity was recreating the 1930 painting "American Gothic" by Grant Wood. The painting shows a farmer standing beside his daughter in front of an American Gothic House. Once the image is thoroughly researched and the significance discussed, the Club kids start organizing what they will need for the recreation. Finding costumes, painting backdrops and deciding on props were part of the fun. Finally, for those kids interested in the graphic arts, a computer was used to enhance the images.

"Supportive relationships were fostered between the participants and program staff, as well as between the Club kids," said Kirby. "Their relationships were strengthened as they continued to make decisions together, debate and learn how to perfect the final images. We're so proud of them."