BERLIN -- Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS) visited the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday to give a regular report on the organization’s free youth program.
Following the report, a resident voiced concerns that WYFCS “doesn’t have a presence” on the east side of town with the Berlin Youth Club. However, Mayor Gee Williams defended the organization’s efforts and said he believes all parts of town benefit from the youth club.
Resident Gabe Purnell told the council Monday that he harbors some concerns over the demographics that make up the Berlin Youth Club and those attending WYFCS events.
“Approximately how many African Americans do you have on average?” he asked Youth Club Coordinator Melanie Windsor.
According to Windsor, out of the pool of between 50 and 55 kids that regularly take part in the club, roughly 25-30 are African American and represented about 49 percent of the group’s population with the remainder 38 percent Caucasian and 13 percent Hispanic.
Purnell also inquired about the number of activities hosted by the club. Windsor estimated the club plans two to four per month. Activities often include things like fieldtrips with the group visiting Wallops Island, the Winterfest of Lights, Old Pro Golf, the Harlem Globetrotters and many others this year. When an event isn’t a field trip, Windsor said that kids will often have an in-house activity at WYFCS’ Main Street office.
For example, the non-profit recently began to offer a monthly art night for youth which, like all of the club’s programs, is free.
“I was very pleased with how many kids showed up,” said Windsor of the first two nights which suffered through rough weather but still managed to bring in 14 and 11 participants, respectfully.
However, Windsor explained that during the school year the club usually only schedules events on days when kids are out of class. Meetings per month increase dramatically in the summer when students are on vacation.
Still, after learning that the town funds the club with an annual $24,000 grant to WYFCS, Purnell asked the council to re-consider that during budget planning.
“That’s a lot of money I believe being paid and what we’re getting I don’t see, and this is a very small town, I don’t see any presence at this point and time on the east side,” Purnell said. “And that’s where this whole program was supposed to be focused primarily because of the at-risk kids … I just think the council needs to take a long and hard look at it.”
The mayor disagreed with Purnell’s assessment and referenced the percentages of students involved with the youth club. With 49 percent of the total numbers, Williams didn’t feel that African Americans were under-represented. Furthermore, he didn’t think that the best approach is to overly worry about demographics opposed to whether the club is doing its job and reaching the kids in Berlin.
“I think we can just respectfully disagree that it is a problem because why have a youth program that doesn’t expand the horizons of all of the children involved regardless of their racial or ethnic heritage?” he asked.
The Berlin Youth Club, which is approaching its third summer, is taking the “long-view,” according to the mayor.
“The idea over time is that someday we have a community, just hopefully like a country, where all of these different ways of defining ourselves by dividing ourselves is just ancient history,” he said.
Until then, Williams reiterated his belief that the club is entirely inclusive and a benefit to the town.