Students receive homework help each day after school. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
It’s 3:15 p.m. and the East Dallas Boys and Girls Club is quiet as the staff prepares the space for the invasion. The screams from schoolchildren soon fill the bright space.
Branch director Estefania Meza is one of the adults welcoming the youth into the club, which is in the Peak’s Addition neighborhood.
About 120 elementary to high school students fill the club each afternoon. They eat a meal, work on homework, take part in learning activities and play in the gym. Club members arrive on buses, vans and shuttles from 14 area schools year-round. The cost? Just $10 a week.
Meza makes sure to learn the children’s names and welcome them as often as she can. Meza grew up in East Dallas attending Lipscomb Elementary, which has its own Boys and Girls Club, but her commitment to the Boys and Girls Club goes back to her days in high school.
As a student at Skyline High School in 2008, Meza needed community service hours to graduate. Rather than work in the schools and other organizations near Skyline, she opted to volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club close to her home at the time, near Wilmer-Hutchins.
Estefania Meza ensures the East Dallas Boys and Girls Club is a welcoming and nurturing place for all kids. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Though she signed up to volunteer, she joined the club and benefitted from the numerous programs geared toward high school students. She shadowed Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and a principal at a school for special needs students. She also received help with her application to college and financial aid. “I thought I was helping kids out, but they were the ones helping me and guiding me to what my purpose is,” Meza says.
Prior to being a part of the Boys and Girls Club, she hadn’t thought much about college, but with its help she graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with no debt and a degree in early childhood education. “It has really been that guidance that I needed,” she says.
Though she went to school to be a teacher, she realized that at the Boys and Girls Club she could help both the children and their families. Meza works with families to translate medical paperwork, walk them through the college application process and more.
The East Dallas Club was not at capacity when Meza arrived three years ago. Now there is a waiting list. There is no financial cutoff for the club, creating a diverse group of kids each year. Volunteers from Plains Capital Bank, Crisp Salad, Highland Park High School and more help provide opportunities that include culinary classes, metal workshops and summer swimming lessons.
Newly retired Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten is one of the many supporters of the East Dallas Boys and Girls Club, which is part of a larger Boys and Girls Club of America that began in 1860 in Connecticut and today has more than 4,000 clubs across the country.
Meza loves to see the children grow through the years. She remembers kids who used to hate going to the reading room who now don’t want to leave. She is especially proud of a former club member who received a full scholarship to Syracuse University.
But the population at the club is not without challenges. Bullying, struggles with English and single parent households are just some of the issues Meza works to address. “We make them feel like it is OK to have one parent,” she says. “Here, we are a family.”
How to help: Volunteer to coach kids, help with homework or provide internships. Donations are an option as well. Learn more here: bgdallas.org