Teaching Kids Smart Moves

Jun 20, 2023

Teaching Kids Smart Moves

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

A few years back, there was only one place young Riley could go.

Her academics were failing. She was not allowed in school at times because of her behavior issues, and was assigned virtual learning. Her parents struggled with work and raising her.

Then Riley’s parents were introduced to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Red River Valley Oklahoma.

The Club Unit Director worked with the family personally to develop strategies to help Riley when she was experiencing a loss of control, both at the club and at home. Three years into attending the Boys & Girls Clubs, Riley can now go to school on a regular basis and is an A&B honor roll student.

“My husband and I can continue to work and provide for our family knowing that our daughters are in a safe place that can mentor them regardless of their behavior concerns,” Riley’s mom said.

Riley and her family are among many who benefit from the activities, services, and love provided by The Boys & Girls Clubs of Red River Valley OK. The club serves 1,500+ youths in 14 locations across 200 miles of southeastern Oklahoma.

“Our mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens,” says Hannah J. McDonald, Director of Development. “That encapsulates all we do and why we do it. We are making a difference in so many young people’s lives. That is what really inspires me.”

One of their programs is SMART MOVES. It provides age-appropriate information about alcohol and other drugs; self-awareness activities to develop respect for one’s own body;  capacity to handle feelings; healthy habits; activities to develop the ability to interact and work in groups; practice in decision-making, problem-solving, and planning ahead; and training in refusal techniques useful for avoiding risky situations.

A staff member observed the success of one of the young people: “We have a club member that has an Autism spectrum disorder. The club staff has worked hard with him to help him build positive peer relationships through our SMART MOVES program. His confidence soared.”

Kam Sallee is the Chief Executive Officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Red River Valley Oklahoma. He grew up in Boys and Girls Clubs across the country, starting in Montana where he is an enrolled tribal member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. His mother has been in the Boys and Girls Clubs movement for 27 years.

“I didn’t know I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps,” Kam says. “When I got my first full-time job at a Boys & Girls Club, I realized this is what I was meant to do. This is something I’m very passionate about, especially at this club. It’s something I'm proud to talk about, how we take care of and give back to the Native youth which are nearly fifty percent at our sites.”

Native Clubs have found that SMART MOVES helps them create strong partnerships with local schools, police, Head Start, businesses, and other health and social services agencies. The Boys & Girls Clubs often invite elders or other tribal community members to discuss tribal cultures, values, traditions, history, or language.

Through their Texoma Health Foundation funding, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Red River Valley Oklahoma are focusing on increasing the SMART MOVES capacity, technology, staff training, and upgrading equipment. It’s allowing them to take care of kids like young Riley.

“I know we’re making a difference on a daily basis,” Kam says. “I’m one of those kids who wouldn’t be where I am without Boys & Girls Clubs.”

Note: Riley’s name was changed by Boys & Girls Clubs of Red River Valley Oklahoma.