The Ollie isn’t your typical teen center with vending machines, video games, and a lending library – although, of course, where there are teens, there are all of the above.
Opened in 1901, The South Boston Neighborhood House (also known as The Ollie) has had a mission to be there for the community from the very start.
Preschoolers are pushed in strollers, teens come in packs, and seniors might walk with a little less pace, but they all come through the doors seeking friendship, guidance, or maybe just a safe space to decompress.
When Education and Career Development Coordinator Caitlyn Murphy first started working there, she was running the Summer Leadership Intern Program (SLIP) and was later asked to assist with Girls Group, an education and career development group for girls aged 10-12. The girls learn about all things ranging from social media safety, puberty, how to be active and healthy, and other topics that are important to the girls. Plus, they get to be with other local kids their age and have the chance to make some friends.
“My life at the Ollie is fun, and I make new friends in any of the clubs,” said 12-year-old Mia, a member of Girls Group. “I keep coming back because it’s fun to do. There is always a new person and everyone is nice. You get to be with people you might not see all the time. It’s good to meet up at Girls Group with them.”
Because of the great feedback from the girls, it was time to do something for the boys. Caitlyn’s colleague Cam Murphy was a summer van driver at the time when the two of them approached their boss about starting a program that mirrored Girls Group. And so, Boyz II Men began with Cam overseeing it. Since then, the boy’s group has expanded to a cooking club, woodworking shops, and a wrestling program (created by Ollie staffer, and Southie native Henry Gailunas) that Cam says really helped some of the boys come into their own.
Additionally, anyone ages 10+ can also join the Music Appreciation Club, the Robotics Club, the Art Club, the Crochet Club, a bowling league, Wellness Wednesdays, and more, all of which Cam and Caitlyn helped bring to life.
But all of that doesn’t have to end when you age out of the youth groups. On top of those clubs, there are plenty of programs geared toward teens and young adults aged 13-21, with an emphasis on employment preparation.
From resume writing workshops and attending local career fairs to working at The Ollie front desk and running the Girls Group and Boyz II Men clubs, these kids are given all the opportunities to thrive in the workforce. Then, those who are ready for a real-world job experience join the Summer Leadership Intern Program (SLIP), where kids are matched with local businesses based on interest. Here’s a little success story:
A young teenager was matched with American Provisions for his internship. One of the managers told him to come back when he turned 14, and they would give him an actual job…and so he did! 5 years later, the young man is still working there and is one of the longest-working employees at American Provisions, aside from the owners!
But the fun doesn’t end behind the counter…
When the teens aren’t doing their homework at work, they host social events, like a sip and paint (minus the sip!), go on weekend hikes, and take trips to New York and Washington D.C. Most recently, they went on a ski trip. For most, it was their first time being on a mountain, and their immediate question was, “When is the next trip?!”
The Ollie is always accepting new members so that teens can join in on the fun right away. All they have to do is walk in and fill out a membership form with a parent or guardian. 90% of the programming offered is free of charge to allow all kids from all backgrounds to benefit from them. For the things that do cost money, like the ski trip, there are other options for those who may not be able to afford it.
In fact, their upcoming Day at the Races Fundraiser is just around the corner! On February 10th, head to The Ollie to participate in their spin-on horse racing – racing rocking horses with dice! There will be a $10 fee at the door as well as drinks, snacks, and raffles available to purchase, with proceeds going toward the next ski trip. Races start at 12:30!
The consensus from the kids who walk through those doors is that it’s their favorite place, their happy place, their safe space. Everybody deserves to feel that way about somewhere.
So, whether you are a business interested in taking part in SLIP, a parent with questions, or just someone looking to get involved, contact Caitlyn at [email protected].