Union League Boys & Girls Clubs spend spring break preparing for Earth Day

More than 20 students gathered at Baretto Club to clean the garden, plant seedlings and paint pots in preparation for Earth Day.

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Kids and volunteers plant new flowers in the garden and nearby trees in preparation of Earth Day at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs in Humboldt Park.

Kids and volunteers plant new flowers in the garden and nearby trees in preparation of Earth Day at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs in Humboldt Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Malachi Louis spends his afternoons shooting hoops at Humboldt Park’s Barreto Club, one of the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs. He goes to the club nearly every day and considers it his second home.

“If I don’t want to be at home, I’ll come here,” said Malachi, 12. “There’s a lot of people that are here that I can trust and like. I come here to play ball and get my anger and stress out.”

On Thursday, Malachi and 20 others went beyond their normal activities at Barreto Club, 1214 N. Washtenaw Ave., and spent time cleaning the garden, planting seedlings for vegetables and painting plant pots in preparation of Earth Day next week.

“Earth Day is supposed to be a day we help the earth,” he said. “A lot of people have been littering, but on Earth Day we can start cleaning up and make our world beautiful. It’s our world, and we should want it to be clean.”

Malachi Louis, 12, holds a windmill as others plant new flowers in the garden and nearby trees at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs in Humboldt Park.

Malachi Louis, 12, holds a windmill as others plant new flowers in the garden and nearby trees at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs in Humboldt Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970, is observed annually on April 22. In recent years, the day’s global events are meant to raise awareness about global climate change and sustainable, environmentally friendly practices.

Kim Hawkins, vice president of development for the club, said with vaccination rates increasing for youth ages 5 and up, it was a good week to hold the event, which corresponds with CPS’ spring break.

“Our gardens have been neglected a little bit, and we wanted them to have a blast this spring break,” Hawkins said. Some students also decorated cupcakes with an Easter and spring theme.

The kids were joined by representatives from gummy candy company HARIBO. The company announced Thursday a $60,000 award to the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs. According to Lauren Triffler, a spokeswoman for HARIBO, $50,000 will be used to expand youth programming, and $10,000 will go for scholarships.

“When we give to organizations, we always like to make sure there’s an educational component because we believe everybody should have access to quality and affordable education,” Triffler said. “This club will now be able to expand programming right here, and we want the dollars to go directly to that.”

Young kids stand around the table decorate cupcakes at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs as part of an Earth Day celebration.

Young kids stand around the table decorate cupcakes at the Union League Boys & Girls Clubs as part of an Earth Day celebration.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

For Hawkins, the donation comes at a time when more students have expressed a need for club services, like homework help and fighting food insecurity. The clubs also have been providing help with social and emotional wellness and learning as students have integrated back into classrooms after two years.

“We strive to be an extension of their families, people they can turn to no matter what,” Hawkins said.

That message was clearly received as 8-year-old Angel Duckins carried a cupcake to her seat and exclaimed, “This is one of the best spring breaks I’ve had!”

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times viaReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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