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Boys and Girls Clubs teen space in McKeesport to offer job coaching, mental health services

Teens cut ribbon at ceremony.
Mia Olivares
Boys and Girls Clubs of Western PA
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in McKeesport Wednesday to celebrate the opening of its new teen center.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania is expanding its programs for Mon Valley teens. The organization celebrated the opening of a new teen center Wednesday in McKeesport.

Participation in after-school programs is down nationwide, and access to them has dipped. A report from the Afterschool Alliance in 2020 found that just 11% of Pennsylvania students were enrolled in afterschool programs, down from 17% in 2014.

Meanwhile, the report found that the demand for these programs far exceeded the supply: for every child enrolled in an after-school program in Pennsylvania, four were waiting to get in.

“So we've been trying to step up and be a resource for communities to provide a place for teens to be teens, but also to be prepared for career and life opportunities,” said Chris Watts, who was named president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs last year.

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The teen center will offer participants college and career coaching, as well as mental health services. All programs are free, with many offering teens stipends of as much as $20 per hour to participate.

Watts said the new space quadruples the size of its previous footprint in McKeesport.

“We were kind of tapped out of space at our previous location in the community, both in terms of some of the challenges, but also the opportunities,” he said. “More teens wanted to utilize our services and we just didn't have the space to do it.”

The new space will be able to accommodate roughly 45 teens daily, according to Watts. The expansion leverages some of the $1.5 million in federal funding U.S. Sen. Bob Casey secured for the Boys and Girls Clubs’ teen outreach programs last year.

This organization’s teen programs — which serve communities in 12 locations across Allegheny, Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland counties — are designed to help participants develop healthy relationships, avoid risky behaviors and build confidence.

Additional support for the Clubs’ McKeesport expansion came from Allegheny County and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which McKeesport native Lt. Gov. Austin Davis now chairs.

“The kids of McKeesport deserve opportunities to thrive and too often they are presented with obstacles that limit their potential," Davis said in a statement Thursday. "As a former 'Club Kid,' I know what type of impact Boys & Girls Club programs can have on your future and I am thrilled to see this renewed commitment to the community with their newest location.”

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.