The Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens (VBGCQ) welcomed back its Friday Night Teen Program last week, with dozens of teens showing up to take part.
Due to funding issues, the club was forced to shut down the program at P.S. 199 in Sunnyside last summer, according to Ariel Gagliardo, the club’s resource development director.
The event is geared toward middle and high school students in the Sunnyside and Woodside communities. On its opening night last week, the club drew in children aged 12 to 16 years old. The groups participated in a number of activities, including dodgeball and icebreaker challenges.
Gagliardo said that while the club does have many programs to help with academics and leadership, Friday nights act as a source of fun and creativity for the kids. Included among the various weekly activities are sports, performing arts and visual arts.
“Anything that we could expose them to, we try to do it,” Gagliardo said. “With kids and teens, if you can keep them occupied and engage them, then they’re there no matter what.
“Even if they aren’t always necessarily into the topic at hand,” she added. “If they can have a positive relationship with people, with their peers, they’re going to want to keep coming back. So, it’s really great.”
Many of the kids who attended the first week said that they would rather be hanging out with friends on Friday nights versus being stuck at home. Andrew Ajaka, 14, joined Vahig, Shant and Gabriel Gajzavina after they told him about their experiences from last year.
“I heard about the program from my friends who did it last year,” Ajaka said. “We all live close by to the school, so we plan on coming every week.”
The program encourages the teens to create new friendships with one another, as well as with the staff. Executive Director Blair Trunzo guided the kids through each activity with the help of Membership Coordinator Sandy Joseph and Youth Development Professional Raquasia Smith.
Smith joined VBGCQ at just six years old and eventually returned to the organization as a volunteer when she was a college student. She wanted to see “how things worked on the other side” and was pretty happy with the turnout so far.
Ralph Trionfo, a VBGCQ board member, also participated. Trionfo first got involved with VBGCQ about 30 years ago.
“It’s a safe environment, the kids have fun and they make new friends,” he said.
Registration for the event costs $10 at www.vbgcq.org. The middle school portion takes place from 6 to 7 p.m., while the high school session lasts from 7 to 9 p.m. every Friday.