Club For Boys: A Lifeline of Encouragement and Safety for the Smoke Family
When Gwendyllyn Smoke and her two sons were homeless, the Club for Boys was a place where her boys could be just boys. After being evicted from their apartment of eight years, Smoke and her boys moved into the Cornerstone Rescue Mission until they could find another affordable place. The Club became a lifeline of encouragement and safety for the boys during the day.
“They understood we didn’t have a home. The Club was their getaway,” she said. Smoke and her boys, ages nine and 11, are now in their own apartment, and the Club has continued to serve as a safe, reliable place for her boys to spread their wings. “The Club promotes leadership,” Smoke said, and both her boys have been recognized in the Club’s Boy of the Month Program.
“I am so proud of them. I’m so glad they’re at the Club, making good use of their time.”
More than an afterschool program for her kids
The Club has also served as a pillar of encouragement for Smoke, who has overcome several hurdles to earn a college education and now live as a single mother able to provide for her family. She grew up in Rapid City, and her mother died at the age of 14.
She was placed in the care of her oldest sister on the Pine Ridge Reservation but was granted legal emancipation at 16. She moved to California, where she graduated with her high school diploma from a boarding school. Smoke aspired to continue her education but put college on the back-burner after she got pregnant and worked multiple jobs to take care of her sons after they were born. There was a season when she said goodbye to them in the morning as they headed to school and wouldn’t see them again until 2am when she picked them up from a 24-hour daycare.
“I was working 12-hour days,” she said. “I would do whatever I could to care for them.” As the boys grew older, she enrolled in Oglala Lakota College, where she recently earned three degrees and a teaching certificate. She is now pursuing her master’s degree in Lakota studies and works full-time for Rural America Initiatives.
a champion for the smoke family
The Club aims to champion families, something Smoke said she had felt consistently as she worked hard to attend college, keep a job, and be a good mother. “Everyone at the Club is so encouraging. While I was getting my degrees, they kept telling me to keep going,” she said.
“They reminded me that I was doing a good job. That I could do it.” Smoke attends every parent night at the Club and is purposeful about watching her boys' sporting events and activities.
"I just didn't have that growing up, and I want that for them," she said. Smoke’s expectations and hopes for her two sons—that they demonstrate respect, kindness, and leadership skills—are echoed and reinforced at the Club each day, she added.
“I hope my boys learn to be helpful,” she said. “I want them to be independent. I want them to be good to other people.”
About the Club for Boys
The Club for Boys is a quality, comprehensive afterschool program serving all boys ages 6-18. The Club offers a range of activities specifically for boys that encompass education, outdoor recreation, creativity, athletics, nutritious meals and fulfillment of personal needs. This programming builds on what is known about how boys learn and grow and addresses the distinctive development styles and energy levels of boys.
How United Way of the Black Hills helps
UWBH provides funding to the Club for Boys to provide financial assistance to local families, such as the Smoke family, to participate in these programs. When you make a donation to United Way of the Black Hills, you are helping families like the Smoke family to reach their fullest potential.