Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boys and Girls Clubs vital for single mother, kids

Supervised place to go, develop for city's young people

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For many families, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg are places for kids to spend time and make friends. For Donna Garofalo, the organization has provided strength and help when her family needed them most.

Garofalo is a single parent raising six kids between the ages of three and 16.

The father of her children died three years ago. Though he and Garofalo weren't together at the time, he was a constant friend and partner to her, as well as a wonderful father to her children.

The loss was a profound one.

Garofalo's kids started going to the Boys and Girls Club when they moved to a new area of the city just after their dad's death. The kids' new school, Ryerson Elementary, offered the club through its after-school program.

"For our family, it was ideal. It meant that if I had errands or I had to do some running around, I could leave them in a place where I knew they'd be safe and supervised," Garofalo said.

"Until you're a parent, you don't really know how huge that is."

Since her kids' initial involvement, Garofalo's family became involved in almost every facet of the organization. Three of her children, Lucas, Autumn and Mason, have become members of the club. Autumn and Lucas then went on to volunteer through the program.

Garofalo's three youngest, Anthony, Noah and Zoe, have attended the club's family events. And Garofalo's oldest, Lucas, has even been employed by the Boys and Girls Club.

The organization has been of particular help to Lucas, Garofalo's oldest, who has Tourette's syndrome and ADHD.

"It's difficult for kids who have these conditions to make friends and to keep friendships. They sometimes have a hard time focusing, and because of this they have a hard time connecting socially -- it puts them in the danger of falling in with the wrong sorts of crowds and being susceptible to some of the less productive behaviours," Garofalo said.

"For Lucas especially, the Boys and Girls Club has been a really powerful thing for him and has given him just really important experiences."

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg requires funding from United Way to keep offering the programs for families such as the Garofalo family.

Last year, United Way gave more than $500,000 to the organization. But the money is only part of United Way's support of the Boys and Girls Clubs and the hundreds of other agency partners it supports. United Way facilitates the operation of these powerful organizations in an effort to strengthen Winnipeg's communities and to enact positive change.

Garofalo is seeing the benefits of this support first-hand.

"It has been really touching to me to see the ways this organization has impacted my kids' lives. It's a relationship that's very reciprocal and thoughtful. It's been very inspiring for me to watch. It's a beautiful thing."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2012 B2

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