By Ginger DeShaney
Jared Frith, 15, really enjoys being a member of Boyz II Men at the South Boston Neighborhood House.
“It doesn’t feel like any other program,” he said. “Cam is super chill, but not too chill. It’s almost like being at home but way more fun.”
Cam Murphy is the Boyz II Men coordinator. “I definitely want this program to be a place where they learn independence,” he said. “I try to not be overbearing or overcontrolling. I want them to have these experiences where they can learn.
“I want them to have that ability to grow. When they move on from this program, they’ll be going off on their own a little bit.”
Boyz II Men is a free program for boys ages 10-16 that meets on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Activities include craft/paint night, game night, movie night, cook night, and Saturday field trips. They also tackle real-life subjects.
Cam, who is in his second year at the Ollie, is engaged to Caitlyn DeCarlo, who runs Girls Group there. Girls Group has been in existence at the Ollie for 30 years, he said.
So Cam pitched the idea for a boys group to executive director Kathy Lafferty. The name Boyz II Men felt fitting “because the idea behind the program was to not only be a space for the boys to come and hang out and do fun activities but also do team building,” Cam said.
The goal is to incorporate both the fun side but also serious issues, including substance abuse and healthy relationship programming. “We want to work both ends,” Cam said.
Boyz II Men partners with Harvard for a Civics program where Harvard students teach Civics to the boys.
The boys also volunteer in the community and have taken part in “Love Your Block,” a community cleanup.
“We want the boys to grow into leaders within the community,” Cam said.
Jared has been with the program from the start. “I was a little bit jealous there was a Girls Group and I was wondering if they were going to [do a boys group],” he said. “When I heard they were going to, I was almost too old.”
There’s no set cutoff, but the initial age range was 10-14, Cam said, because it’s kind of the forgotten group. “A lot of programs are usually 10 and under or teens. We fill in the sweet spot where there’s not a lot of programs.”
“It’s really fun,” said Jared, who attends Boston Collegiate. “I like it because after school on days where I don’t have anything, I can go to the boys group and just hang around.”
Michael Curran, 12, a student at the Condon, said: “My mom told me about it and I was like, ‘This might be cool,’ and it really is. It’s really fun.”
There are about 25 boys on the roster, but 5-7 come regularly during the week. On the weekends, a few more boys participate.
Because of COVID-19, some boys have opted to stay home. Attending programming is not required. Members are welcome back at any time, said Cam, who also works at the Condon School as the swim paraprofessional and is working to become the swim teacher.
“It’s been a little difficult, especially where we were just expanding. Our numbers were growing at a steady incline and then after COVID we kind of lost momentum, which is unfortunate,” he said. “Our numbers basically doubled just prior to COVID. And then we lost a significant chunk.
“We are a very new program so we are still in the stages of building the group,” Cam added. “The boys group is looking toward building the numbers.”
The group loses boys to sports, school clubs, and summer programming, but they are always welcome to come back.
The group uses the app GroupMe to keep kids in the loop on what’s going on. All the members who have signed up receive the messages.
“Once you’re a member, we’ll never kick you out,” Cam said.
Michael has several favorite activities: “Game night. We go on trips on Saturdays. We do really fun stuff, like playing board games, and we can play other games, too.”
“Their favorite night is game night where they get to run a little bit more wild and play whatever games they want,” Cam said.
“On Saturdays we try to get out and get active. We do hikes, do different field trips. One of the favorites is the hikes, especially during COVID time, where they can spread out and get some fresh air.”
Boyz II Men often collaborates with Girls Group on weekend and vacation activities.
Jared really likes the outdoor programming: “I like how they do snowboarding and they did skateboarding. They also did surfing last year.”
Boyz II Men partners with the Chill Foundation, which offers board sports: paddleboarding, skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing, Cam said.
Jared and Michael have been involved with the Neighborhood House since they were very young. And now they are in the process of transforming from boys to men.
To join or get more information about Boyz II Men, email Cam Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone is welcome to the group, but the Ollie doesn’t do dropoffs or pickups so the kids have to get there on their own.