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Tatyania Finds Her Voice

Published on August 30, 2016 under Child Welfare

By Britt Kennerly

This column appeared in the April 28 edition of Florida Today.  It is reprinted with permission by the author.

As a young child, Tatyania Watts often had to be the voice for her deaf parents.

She translated for them at meetings. Made appointments for them.

Her father began using her to make calls to his drug dealer.

“The same gift that I  loved was now being used for something that hurt me and my family so deeply,” she told a crowd earlier this year.

The hurt didn’t go away quickly. Her mother took her children and left Tatyania’s dad. Life didn’t magically improve. Tatyania admits she had a bad attitude when her sister made her start going to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida’s branch in Melbourne’s Temple Terrace neighborhood.

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Tatyania addresses friends and donors at the “Celebrate the Children” gala

But her attitude oozed gratitude when Tatyania, now 18, was named BGCCF’s 2016 Kiwanis Club of Orlando Foundation Youth of the Year and made the speech from which I quote.

“The club was the turnaround in my life,” she said. “Without my Boys and Girls Club I would not be the person I am today, which is a stronger, happier and motivated young woman with a goal in life.”

I share just a smidgen of Tatyania’s compelling story because 400 kids between 6 and 18 are on a waiting list to participate in Boys and Girls Club in Cocoa. The branch is one of three BGCCF sites in Brevard.

These kids, full of untapped and boundless potential, matter. They learn safe behaviors and decision-making. They get homework help; get excited about their futures.

“It’s not a sports club, it’s not just a ‘fun’ club, it’s a life-skills club,” said local attorney Steve Allender, BGCCF board member.

“And these kids take away tools, from the beginning through high school, that propel them into being productive, caring, positive citizens.”

Why the waiting list?

First, say officials, many locals don’t know the clubs even exist.

Most, there’s not enough money for staff and services for 400 more kids. Brevard’s clubs have a total of four full-time and eight part-time staffers.

Nonprofit BGCCF is supported by United Way of Brevard, grants, donations from local corporations and donors and some funding through the Department of Education. Cocoa Rotary is a strong partner.

But funding “has been diminished due to budget cuts,” said board member Tony Hurt of Miller & Hurt Financial Group. And many foundations offering grants don’t fund employee salaries.

Yet, kids keep coming. The Mims club has 139 children. Cocoa has 156. Melbourne, 180.

Eighty-seven percent of them are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Seventy-four percent are from single-parent homes.

Still, 100 percent of Brevard high-school seniors in BGCCF in 2014-’15 earned high-school diplomas and had plans for the future, records show.

“I believe all of them have the desire and heart to do well in the community,” said Erin Harvey, development officer in Brevard County.

“If I see a child that’s not on the right path, it makes me wonder, ‘Why aren’t they in the club?’ … I want to put our arms around them and let them know there’s so much more they can do.”

Hurt said he’d ask everyone to imagine their family in the situation of working, low-income parents.

“What if you had to go to work and you’re a single parent?” he said. “And your kids are left to wander in the community without support, without backing, without any guidance, and that’s the peer group they have at the same time? Wouldn’t you want an organization or other people to step in and help your child and your family; keep them, as Steve would say, on the right trajectory and right path?”

If you look at this only from an economic standpoint, it’s estimated for every $1 spent, BGCCF generates $17.81 of positive impact in Central Florida. Juvenile arrests are averted: 185 such arrests would cost taxpayers $13,520,050 yearly. The annual earnings of 3,862 parents who can work while their children are off the street are estimated at more than $90 million.

And add in the personal: Underage drinking is reduced. Teen pregnancies are avoided; earning power, increased.

Lives are changed. One or 400, they all matter.

And Tatyania?2015-07-08 - Tatyania

She’s headed for Maryville College in Tennessee, on scholarship.

She hopes to become an interpreter for the hearing impaired.

She can’t wait to “stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves,” too.

“I have found my voice,” she said. “I am ready to help my generation change the world.”

Contact Kennerly at 321-242-3692 or bkennerly@floridatoday.com, on Twitter @bybrittkennerly or Facebook.com/bybrittkennerly.

 

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