MERIDEN — On tables and workbenches around the newly named Cox Innovation Lab at the Boys & Girls Club of Meriden lay computers, robotics kits, lego kits, 3D printers, models, books and other items.
They’re already in use by children who attend the club’s afterschool programming, like six-year-old Thiago Tirado and his sisters, Liatmy, 10, and Alison, who is nine. The three of them beamed when discussing what they’re currently working on, and what they hope to learn about in the coming months.
For example, Liatmy Tirado hopes to learn more about using microscopes to study plant life and 3D printing to build things.
“I’m very excited to learn about 3D printing,” Alison Tirado said, similarly.
On Wednesday afternoon, Boys and Girls Club leaders were joined by representatives from Cox Communications, along with city officials, elected leaders, and former New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who is now an author and chairman of the Share the Magic Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to “transforming the lives of children through literacy,” according to the foundation’s website.
Officials announced the Boys & Girls Club had received a $20,000 grant from the James M. Cox Foundation enabling the club to purchase technology, including computers and video equipment, to foster students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That grouping is commonly referred to as STEM.
Boys & Girls Club Executive Director and Meriden City Councilor Larue Graham said the ongoing partnership between his organization and Cox has enabled the club to expand its afterschool curriculum offerings. He noted that the grants have enabled the club to purchase robots, 3D printers and other technology to expand its “STEM For Us All” program.
Graham said the investment will enable the club to help close learning and opportunity gaps, especially for Black and Latino children, who Graham noted are “under represented” in STEM related employment sectors.
“Our hope is to inspire the next math teachers, engineers and architects,” Graham said, adding that since the club has introduced its STEM program, it has enabled other growth. For example, the club’s robotics team has doubled in membership, and has seen improved diversity within that membership.
Mitchell joined local leaders in touting the new innovation lab as an opportunity to inspire youth to see their future potential. He spoke of his own upbringing, in Georgia, as a child whose family depended on food stamps for sustenance. He spoke of the fact there were no “tangible examples” of success in his community.
“People naturally want to be successful,” Mitchell said, adding, “The real question is do they know how? As a child, I did not know how.”
But Mitchell received opportunities through his athletic ability, which landed him a scholarship to the University of Georgia and which led to his career as a professional athlete.
Mitchell said the Innovation Lab, and the partnership between the Boys & Girls Club and Cox, similarly represents hope.
“Hope, inspiration, motivation — that you can do more than your immediate circumstances. This is a wonderful partnership that I hope will continue to grow over time,” Mitchell said. Digital literacy
Democratic Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, who seeks reelection representing Connecticut’s 5th Congressional district, similarly stated that children need to know at an early age what is possible.
“They need to see and have real world experiences and access to all of these opportunities,” Hayes said, noting that one thing the COVID-19 pandemic exposed was how much digital literacy has been lacking in Connecticut’s inner cities and urban communities.
Hayes said it is important to provide children with opportunities to explore technology and become digitally literate.
“The world that these young people enter, will include all of these things. Infrastructure and technology looks different. And our kids will be at a disadvantage if they haven’t at least had the opportunity to learn, grow and expand in these areas,” Hayes said, while also praising public and private partnerships, through agencies and businesses like the Boys & Girls Club and Cox to take actionable steps to expand those opportunities.
Paul Amarone, campaign manager for Republican George Logan, who is running against Hayes for the 5th District seat, similarly expressed Logan’s support for those efforts.
Amarone noted there is a lack of a skilled and trained workforce in sectors including construction, healthcare and manufacturing.
“There seems to be a shortage of young people coming out of high school” into those fields, Amarone said. “George Logan is very supportive of organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, and even schools, having the opportunity, skills and resources to train our young people for whatever career path they choose.”