Mystic Aquarium Launches National Program to Help At-Risk Youth

Oct 12, 2015

The money will go to 56 Boys and Girls Clubs, including several in Connecticut.

Mystic Aquarium is launching a national program to reach out to at-risk youth, and it's the result of the biggest federal grant the non-profit has ever received.

The aquarium plans to help nearly 3,000 kids in 36 states through its new mentorship program.   

"Our goal in this program is not direct service ourselves to youth, but to build the capacity of Boys and Girls Clubs around the nation," said Katie Cubina, the senior vice president for mission programs at the aquarium.

Cubina and her team developed a mentorship program over the last several years, and now they have a chance to take their system nationwide through a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The money will go to 56 Boys and Girls Clubs, including several in Connecticut, for an after-school program focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, or what's also known as STEM. 

Once a week, four kids between six and 12 years old will meet with a mentor. They'll work with the LEGO Group to learn about engineering and waste conservation, and they'll explore STEM aspects in sports. They will also apply what they learn in their own communities. 

"Part of what the Department of Justice is trying to do is provide safe and academically enriching alternatives to things like drugs and crime and gang involvement," Cubina said.

Kids who would take the program are identified as at-risk, which means they usually come from single-parent homes and live below the poverty level. These kids are also more apt to end up in trouble at school and with the law, so this program looks to intervene and help them develop an appreciation for STEM topics. 

Speaking at the aquarium last week, Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney told the audience that this program would change lives. 

"This is not a feel good grant, for Mystic Aquarium, or for the Boys and Girls Club," Courtney said. "This is about sort of addressing a long term national challenge in terms of work force needs for the country."

The program begins this December. Cubina said it's important to stay in touch with the clubs around the country to see if it has any lasting impact on the kids.