Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on America, a New Jersey resident awoke one morning, turned to his wife and said, “Let’s move to Key West and live our dream.” Dan Dombroski is the executive director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Keys (BGCK) – and his passion and dedication are without question. “He sacrifices a lot of his personal time,” said Manny Madruga, Chief Assistant State Attorney and BGCK board member.. “He is a really hard worker who really has the best interests of the kids in mind.”
The Boys and Girls Club has more than 4,000 autonomous clubs throughout the country and takes on a variety of roles in the lives of young people. What is the missions of the Florida Keys Club?
It is so much more than daycare. We do healthy snacks and teach healthy lifestyles, work on adult development skills like computers. But the kids have fun and do what they need to do to develop into solid citizens. Last year, we averaged more than 120 kids participating in our Key West program. Currently, we are renting a space in Glenn Archer from the school district and are looking to lease a section of Bayview Park from the City of Key West. In Big Pine, we service 35-45 kids every year at the center that we lease from the county.
The BGCK is much more than daycare center. What missions does the club take on to promote education and guide a child to a rewarding career?
During the school year, we have an after school program called “Power Hour.” These are tutoring sessions where we bring in both young adults and other volunteers to help out with schoolwork. During the summer we have a lot of younger members who come in to help out and for the first time in their life, these young people have to fill out a time sheet. I love the first time they get paid and see the FICA line. I say, “get used to it.”
“Helping youth become responsible, caring citizens and acquire skills for participating in the democratic process is the main thrust” for many of the Boys & Girls Club programs. What is being done locally to educate the youth on these important issues?
We host workshops and other interactive programs to inform our kids about alcohol and tobacco. The final step of our tobacco program was picking up cigarette butts at the beach. Their reward was a pizza party. The BGCK focuses on community service projects. We not only try and give them opportunity, but guide them to the realization they are apart of bigger community and hope to instill the desire to give back to their community.
What kinds of special advantages do children growing up in the Keys receive? What about the disadvantages?
The special advantages to living in the Keys is that the kids are not exposed to all the perils of as an urban environment like Miami where there is more gang influence like drive-by-shooting. Our smaller community allows these kids a greater chance for success. However, because it is so expensive, time with their parents is limited. Parents must have multiple jobs and that is tough on the family. That is when an organization like ours helps fill in the gaps in these kids’ lives.
Short of opening the checkbook and sending some money, how can people help out?
I would love to get more volunteers, so we can expand our hours to the nights and weekends. But that takes manpower. We need mentors, so we can host more academic groups. We try and have mentoring and teach football stuff. Our real need is adult African-American males. That is a primary need. So many of our kids are growing up in single families and those kids really need positive role models.
What could happen to these kids if the Boys and Girls Club was not available?
The kids get put with some family member who may be too young or too old to properly care for them, or they could end up not being watched at all. These kids can then become delinquent or troubled youth. If there is no organization to help these kids, their parents may feel the need to leave the community, so meaningful daycare if critical. It is a core service to be able to live in this community.
I always look at the glass half full. I will be shopping at Winn Dixie and see a kid who used to be in our club working. Or I see a lady or former mother who yells, “Mr. Dan!”
This weekend, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Keys will host “One Particular Harbour” at the Margaritaville Café in Key West? The All-You-Can-Eat Caribbean buffet, features a silent auction with hotel stays, airline tickets, original art and more. Entertainment will feature the venerable MM 24 Band. Tickets are $40 at the door. For more info on how you can help the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Keys, call (305) 296-2258.