Michael has lived and worked in East Harlem for over 15 years, but his path to the Boys’ Club wasn’t very direct. It wasn’t until he met Gerry Clubhouse Director Carlos Velazquez at an East Harlem Peace Rally, that he even knew the Boys’ Club existed in his neighborhood.
Michael has three sons, Jamier, Jaeden, and Mekhi. Jamier, who is 12, is on the autism spectrum, and has struggled to fit in with his peers. Last year, Jamier experienced bullying at his afterschool, and Michael pulled him out. Jamier and his little brother Jaeden, who is 8, then spent their afternoons at Michael’s office at Youth Action YouthBuild, an alternative high school program in East Harlem.
Although he knew his kids were safe, Michael wasn’t comfortable with the time they spent alone in his office, away from their peers. After meeting Carlos, Michael made a bee-line for Gerry Clubhouse, where he, Jamier, and Jaeden toured the Clubhouse with Carlos that same day. After the tour, Michael remembers “Jamier turned to me and said “I want to go there, Daddy. I want to go to the Boys’ Club.”
Carlos worked out a special schedule for Jamier, to allow Jamier access to the programs that were most exciting to him, and minimize the stressors that often undid him. Carlos also spoke with his staff: not only would Jamier require additional supervision, but the other members might need to be reminded that Jamier’s differences should be celebrated, and that bullying was not an option.
Jamier and Jaeden have been Boys’ Club boys for a few months, now, and Michael gets regular phone calls from Clubhouse staff letting him know how Jamier is doing. Jamier recently told Michael, “They want me to run for president, Daddy!” Jamier’s clubhouse friends did indeed want Jamier to represent them on Gerry’s Youth Council. Jaeden is thriving, too; Michael says, “he doesn’t have to protect his brother, anymore. Instead, he looks up to him.”