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Last updated: Thu. Aug. 07, 2014 - 12:19 am EDT

Boys & Girls Clubs hope kids feel safe

Area locations say dealing with bullies key after Post article

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Stroll through the Boys & Girls Clubs on Fairfield Avenue any given day, and you'll see dozens of children enjoying themselves.

Some are in the gym, a few watch a movie, others put artistic talents to work.

A large group swarms the playground, and the game room is so crowded with children huddled around pool tables and other games that there's barely room to walk around.

No matter where they are, they seem happy just to be at the club, and that's exactly the way Joe Jordan wants it.

“The No. 1 priority is safety and making kids feel safe. That's why they smile when they walk through the door,” said Jordan, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, speaking Wednesday from the Fairfield Avenue location.

Concerned about a recent Washington Post article regarding bullying at a Boys & Girls Clubs day camp near Washington, D.C., Jordan wants to make it known that behavior has no place at the Fort Wayne locations.

“We're all about anti-bullying,” he said.

Ideally, it would be a problem that no staff at the four city locations should deal with, but in reality, it's very much an issue for some children.

When the bully and the bullied are both club participants, staff have the chance not only to hear from the victim, but also to address the cause.

It's rare to find someone who is a bully just for the sake of being one, said Sarah Neace, director of program development for the club.

She said reasons children have given for bullying others include home life, school stress, relationships and other matters.

In recent years, bullying on the Internet has become pervasive.

“Something we've had to address more recently in the past five years is cyberbullying with social media. That's huge,” Neace said.

Unlike bullying of days gone by, victims of online bullying may be constantly subjected to harassment and threats.

Contrast that with bullying before the online age, when victims at least had a reprieve at home or somewhere away from school.

A couple of programs at the club, one targeted to girls and one to boys, have a component about bullying.

One young attendee, identified as Tyrell, wrote in a survey of the program that he no longer bullies like he once did and that he bullied others because he was bullied when he was younger and was angry about it.

But there's more to it than just dealing with the bully when it comes to such a situation. The victims also need to know someone is there for them.

“It's very important we show our kids we will advocate for them,” Neace said.

That advocacy seems to be paying off, according to a national survey of club program participants. It found that 43 percent of attendees feel safer at the club than at school, home, friends' homes or elsewhere.

“We deal with it head-on … we want them to feel safe and empowered,” Jordan said.

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