NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) — It is a unique program that has been around for 122 years. The Boys and Girls Brigade in Neenah is not the only one in the world, but it is the largest in the U.S.
“I used to be really scared talking to people but now it’s not like a big deal. I don’t know, I feel like I’ve grown more with people personally,” said ninth-grader Isabella Schoonover.
And at the very core, that’s what The Brigade is all about — to help kids be the best version of themselves.
“We all get together and do crafts and physical activities and you’re just really able to grow as a person,” fellow Brigader Gina Bellin said.
“It’s a space where you feel safe, almost like a school setting, but it’s not school. It’s not academic, it’s more you learn about yourself personally,” added Schoonover.
Doors opened to its current building in 1900. It’s been in downtown Neenah since day one.
“Where else in one spot, under one roof, can you get everything from culinary, to STEM, to physical activities, to shooting, to stained glass, to martial arts, to rock climbing, to more and more and more?” said Executive Director John Benberg.
Since its humble beginnings, the organization has seen massive change, but one message remains the same.
“We apply some intentionality around the edges, and structure in how we do things, the group experiences, and the opportunity to try and fail and then succeed,” Benberg said.
It’s a place for kids, of all ages through high school, to find what they are passionate about.
“You become more resilient, you have some additional character, you become a stronger younger person, and that carries forward to your adult life,” Benberg said of the program.
In the end, it’s about kids helping other kids, with a bit of a helping hand. And it ends up surprising some of them how far they’ve grown.
“I’ve grown closer to a lot of classmates that I didn’t think I would bond with very well,” said Schoonover.
Something her fellow Brigaders agree upon.
“I’ve been able to step up into a leadership position, and I’ve been able to branch out more and talk more and be able to lead more,” Bellin said.
The program is split into two, 10-week sessions. There is also a summer camp. To learn more about the program and what they do, visit their website.