Berlin Youth Programs Growing; Boys Club Will Return This Summer

BERLIN — Following a successful year with a new adolescent boys club, Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS) will be continuing the group over the summer and into next year. Additionally, the organization is hoping to begin a behavioral skills group for kids who struggle to socialize.

Having run similar counseling and character growth groups for girls for years, WYFCS Development and Donor Relations Director Stefanie Gordy said that it was only natural for the agency to branch out to cover adolescent boys as well. However, that demographic is traditionally tougher to work with and resistant to speaking openly in a group setting. It is because of that difficulty that Gordy said she is so impressed with WYFCS therapist Lauren Mathias-Williams for starting the boys club.

“When they came up with the idea of doing this, she was the one who spearheaded it and was so excited about getting it off of the ground because she’s attracted to that kind of work that a lot of therapists or a lot of people in general might shy away from,” Gordy said. “Adolescent boys are not the easiest population.”

WYFCS psychologist Dr. Jennifer Leggour also praised Mathias-Williams for filling an “ongoing need” in the community.

“There’s been an ongoing need for years and people have always wanted us to have a boys’ group in some way, shape or form and we were actually able to make that happen this past year,” said Leggour, “and there was such a positive response from the boys that were involved that we actually want to continue it through this summer and throughout the next school year as well.”

Having worked at a juvenile prison in Connecticut, Mathias-Williams has no problems confidently leading the club. The goals of the group are open and flexible for every member. A lot of adolescents, said Mathias-Williams, just need a safe place where they can talk about themselves and their lives frankly.

“A lot just want another place to be able to talk about stuff that’s going on in their lives. There’s a lot of evidence that gender-focused, gender-specific programming is very important for boys, just to be able to talk about development and kids becoming young men,” she said.

The topics the group can cover will be broad: everything from home life to pressures in school and other things in between. Bullying is one thing that goes widely unreported in the group’s target age range of seventh and eighth grades.

“There’s a lot more bullying that happens with males than with females but it gets reported a lot more with females. And that’s the whole stereotype in our society about how a man should be,” said Mathias-Williams.

Besides group sessions, which will meet once a week on Wednesdays, every other Friday the club will have a field trip.

“Every other week we’re going to do some fun incentive trip. Some beach, some boardwalk, some Shad Landing. Stuff like that,” said Mathias-Williams.

The goal is to have about 10 members participate, she continued. Besides Mathias-Williams, a male intern will help lead the group, giving the program the benefit of viewing problems from either gender. Transportation will be provided and most insurance, including Medicare and Maryland Children’s Health Insurance, will be accepted. The group will start the last week of June and continue on until the next school year begins.

The main club will be for seventh and eighth graders, though will not be limited to only Worcester County students. WYFCS hopes to create a companion group for boys in sixth grade transitioning to seventh.

“That’s such an intimidating time,” said Gordy.

Because of the unique premise of the group, WYFCS expects that it will appeal most to students at Berlin Intermediate School (BIS) preparing to move to Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS). The start date for that will most likely be mid-summer and anyone interested, even non-BIS students, should contact the agency for more information.

One final group WYFCS is looking to launch this summer is a social skills club.

“It would be social skills training, what I call a social thinking group, for kids who have deficits related to some type of mental health diagnosis,” said Leggour.

The program is designed to be especially useful for kids who fall under the Autism spectrum or have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

“They struggle to understand what another person is doing or thinking which is a real deficit in a social relationship,” she said.

While those are the most common issues, Leggour said that the group will be able to help any child that is having a hard time understanding social cues or fitting in with their peer group. The plan is to offer the club to two age groups: upper elementary school and middle school, with the latter the most common age when some kids struggle socially, according to Leggour.

For more information, call 410-641-4598 or visit www.gowoyo.org

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