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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 6, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 6
Investing in Youth

Ron Fairchild, head of JHU's Center for Summer Learning, puts his expertise to work as a board member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Maryland.

One United Way agency adds learning to exercise with healthy results

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Getting kids to participate in sports, says Ron Fairchild, requires little arm twisting. Provide a ball and a court, and the bigger problem might be getting them to stop.

A tougher sell is to persuade a child to do his homework or sit down and read a book, particularly a child who receives little to no learning encouragement at home, says Fairchild, who sits on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Maryland.

Fairchild, who is also the executive director of Johns Hopkins' Center for Summer Learning (formerly Teach Baltimore), views sports like basketball as a learning opportunity. In fact, Fairchild has been instrumental in setting up programs at Boys and Girls Clubs across the country that preach the message "Learn first, play later and then learn some more."

Simply put, club members who want to play a sport, whether it be basketball or kickball, have to finish their homework first. For those waiting for the next game, racks of sports books and magazines are on hand to help pass the time. Exercise and learning--Fairchild calls it a healthy combination.

"A lot of people think of Boys and Girls Clubs simply as a place for recreation where kids can hang out, play some basketball and be supervised by caring and responsible adults," Fairchild says. "That is all true, but these clubs also provide critical services and opportunities to enhance learning and social development--activities like homework help, tutoring sessions and fun educational games--that really do help. These are things that will pay off down the road. By participating in such after-school programs, these youth are less likely to exhibit risky behaviors and are more likely to be successful in school."

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Maryland is one of the more than 250 United Way-affiliated human service programs that seek to improve people's lives in Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties.

The organization traces its roots back to 1860 in Hartford, Conn., where a group of local women felt that boys who roamed the streets needed a more positive alternative. In 1990, the organization became the Boys and Girls Clubs in order to recognize the growing number of girls who were a part of the clubs' activities.

The organization now has 3.6 million members nationwide and locations in all 50 states. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Maryland currently operates three clubs in Baltimore and three off-site programs and has plans to open two more clubs within the year, in Arbutus in Baltimore County and in Westminster in Carroll County.

The organization's mission is to "inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens." To that end, each club sponsors activities in five major programming areas: character and leadership; education and career; health and life skills; the arts; and sports, fitness and recreation.

Prior to coming to Johns Hopkins, Fairchild served as director of education programs at the national headquarters of Boys and Girls Clubs of America. It was here he worked on Project Learn, the organization's centerpiece after-school education program. Begun in 1996, the program focuses on homework help, tutoring and high-yield learning activities in which club staff, parents and local schools collaborate. Specifically, between 3 and 6 p.m. on weekdays, the clubs hosts fun-injected educational programs, many of them incentive-based.

"It was through Project Learn that many clubs converted old storage areas in their gym into sports libraries, where they put books and computers. It's all about using something young people are already interested in, like like their favorite sports team or player, as a hook to engage them in reading and math-related activities," he says.

During the university's annual United Way campaign, Fairchild encourages others at Johns Hopkins to help organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, whether it be through funding, volunteering or sharing their expertise in program development. There are currently plans to start a summer fellowship program at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Maryland, where one Johns Hopkins undergraduate each summer would learn nonprofit management and fund-raising skills, working alongside the executive director.

"We want to create more opportunities for college students to become more engaged with our organization," Fairchild says. "I really believe in this organization. I have seen firsthand the impact these programs have on the lives of kids. I feel very strongly about doing what I can to help support these clubs."

Frank Williams, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Maryland, says that, considering the specific population they deal with, each club has an enormous responsibility.

"Nearly 80 percent of our members come from families at or below the poverty level, and 90 percent are from single-parent homes. So, the need is great," Williams says. "We would love for the Johns Hopkins community to be willing to share their expertise with us. We are not looking for people to commit three to four hours each day; we know that most people don't have that sort of time. We are more interested to hear about projects and programs that we can implement here, to help us save on cost and provide needed resources for our children."

Don Mathis, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County, says that each club could use more people like Ron Fairchild.

"He has really helped us develop interactive learning programs for kids who are underachieving in the school systems. We have a lot of need for innovation, and Ron has provided this. He's great at coming up with ways to make learning fun and attracting kids to it," Mathis says. "The results are certainly there in attendance, behavior and grades. Of our 340 kids, 99 percent are at grade level and/or advanced to the next grade. Does this mean they started to read and study by picking up books about Michael Jordan rather than physics? Maybe. But the bottom line is we encouraged them to read."

For more information about the Boys and Clubs of Central Maryland, go to

'What Matters'

For the 2003 United Way campaign whose theme is "What Matters," university chair Ralph Fessler, dean of SPSBE, has chosen to target his message to investing in children and youth.

"When you invest in a child, good things happen," he says. "Through the work of some wonderful agencies right here in Baltimore, we can influence what happens in their later lives."

This year, the combined Johns Hopkins goal is $2,382,100 for all university divisions except SAIS, whose donations are reported to the Washington capital area campaign, and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

For more information on Hopkins' United Way campaign, read The Gazette's kickoff story at or go to


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