Torch Club wins two awards fostering service and fellowship
It’s not just the awards, though those are nice. Members of The Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club’s middle school leadership program, the Torch Club, keep coming for the fellowship, and the camaraderie of community service.
“Torch Club gives me a way to give back to the community,” said Mitchell Verdasco. “It also opens up a new perspective: We live in a bubble in Ridgefield; it’s a way of making change.”
“The club, it’s a big family,” said Sara Shepherd. “You’re always supported and encouraged and you’re always accepted here, and it makes you feel like you could do anything.”
”I’ve been coming here for seven years and I started Torch Club in sixth grade and now I’m in eighth,” said Claudia Kotarowski. “Torch Club is kind of a place where you help out the community. It just helps out with all my problems, as well, from school to home. The club is my second home, just in general.”
“I came to the Torch Club in sixth grade. I’ve been coming to the club for a while. It just really helps me through everything,” said Eli Keeler. “I plan to be here forever.”
The Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club learned Aug. 31 that its Tiger’s Paw Torch Club won two of the five national awards given to the middle school level programs this year.
The Torch Club won best national project for its “Linking Hearts and Hands” program, and also the “Service to Club and Community” award.
The Service to Club and Community award started with the Torch Club organizing “We Are the Change,” a penny-wars type fund-raiser that the entire club participated in.
“We took all the money — we raised $1,000 — and we sponsored 25 families from the Friends of Karen organization,” said Jeff Goncalves, the Boys and Girls Club’s program coordinator and Torch Club adviser. “The organization provides financial and medical assistance to families with kids with terminal illnesses.
“We took that money, sponsored 25 families, went shopping, bought a bunch of toys, gift cards
“The Torch Club really put that together, but the whole club contributed,” said Mike Flynn, executive director of the Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club.
“Not only was it a great club/community event,” Flynn said, “but we were able to turn around and support others in need — which was really due to Jeff’s work, the kids’ work, to be successful.
“The national project was Linking Hearts and Hands, which is through Boys and Girls Clubs of America,” Flynn said. “It’s helping other children, either their age — peers — or younger, any way that they could.”
They created “birthday in a bag” events for families with kids in the Friends of Karen program.
“Families that can’t afford to put on a birthday party, or anything, due to the medical bills, usually,” Goncalves said.
“We call it a bakeless bake sale,” he said. “We sent out flyers and emails, like a collection drive, for cake mix, frosting, candles, plates and napkins. We’d wrap them in cellophane bags. Tie a bow around them. We also created birthday cards, slipped them in the bag, too
“We put together 16 birthday bags, each worth over $20.
“And our members did all the physical stuff — putting together the bags, all the collection items, the mixes and frostings — over a period of two or three weeks.”
The Torch Club, about 100 kids in sixth through eighth grades, meets Tuesdays at the club from 3:30 to 4:15. And, of course, they hang out at the club other times.
Altogether the club has about 2,200 members, about half in the elementary grades and the other half in the middle and high school grades.