With their 20 year old son in prison, Della Walker and her husband Jefferey Carroll are using all the strategies they can to keep their eight year old son out of trouble, and a Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club is a major part of the plan.
Jay Carroll, age eight, is a member of the Mabee Red Shield Boys & Girls Club on 1231 N. Harvard. When he first joined the club last fall, club director Jerome Smith said he acted “street” but has now turned around.
“The kids think acting street is cool and that’s hard for us to combat. Jay didn’t want to be recognized as a good kid, because then he wouldn’t be cool. But he’s come a long way,” Smith said.
Walker said that before joining the club she took Jay to a day care center’s after-school program, where he was bored. “They’d sit around and watch Barney all the time,” she said. Walker works as the second shift manager of housekeeping at St. John Medical Center, where she supervises four managers and 35 employees. But managing her young son was more challenging. Walker said since Jay’s 20 year old brother and 23 year old sister were so much older, he never learned to share things at home. She’d get calls from Jay’s day care and school when Jay would be asked to share and consequently would act out. “He spent a lot of time in the time-out chair,” Walker said.
Walker heard about the Mabee Red Shield Boys & Girls Club from a good friend of hers at work who had taken her kids to Red Shield. Walker called the club and went there to interview Smith and take a tour.
“Everyone was sociable, everyone was cheerful. I felt like they were family,” she said. Another bonus was that the club picks up its members at school. Before, she had to pick Jay up at school and drop him off at day care before she went to work. “And the club is $120 a month cheaper,” she said.
Walker said the influence of the staff helps counteract some of the influence of the kids in the neighborhood near the club where the family lives. “I’ll put it this way – there is only one kid that I will let come over to play with Jay all the time. This kid is polite, he waits at the door until he is asked in. He and Jay play well together,” Walker said, “but that’s only one kid.”
The couple, who have been together for 23 years, know too well the influence peers have over kids. As a youngster, their son Jefferey was not a troublemaker, but when he got his driver’s license, Della bought him a car. “That’s what I really regret, because then he could be away from home, and he liked to hang out with the older boys. He started hanging out with the wrong kids. I told him they would be friends until they got in trouble, and with him being the youngest, when they’d get caught they’d point the finger at him. And that’s exactly what happened,” Walker said.
At the club, Jay plays basketball and other sports. Smith and the club’s athletic director, Coach Sam Berry, agree that Jay is a natural athlete.
“Jerome and Coach Sam have had a very positive impact on Jay. I see a great improvement. I give all the credit to the staff here. And it’s had a positive effect on Jay at school,” Walker said. Jay recently received the ‘Most Improved Reader’ award at Cecelia Clinton Elementary School, where he is in the second grade.
Although Jay has some challenges at the Boys & Girls Club, Della said sports have provided a huge incentive for good behavior. “Jay knows now that if he acts out he won’t get to play sports, so he’s not acting out much anymore. Maybe street is cool, but sports are cooler. Sports are very cool and so is the club. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us,” Walker said.
*Photo by Jerome Smith