Get to know... John Novak, of the Wakeman Boys and Girls Club
Published 12:00 am, Friday, October 13, 2017
FAIRFIELD — The lower portion of John Novak’s face is covered by a bushy, golden-brown beard.
It adds years to Novak, 25, who began in September as the Arts, STEM & Academic Success program director for Wakeman Boys and Girls Club’s Southport Clubhouse.
“Kids always say I look like their dad,” said Novak on a recent Wednesday, a little more than a month after starting his new position.
In the role, Novak will help to plan programming for the Southport location’s roughly 2,700 members and work with about 300 students that come daily for after-school programs.
“We’re excited to have him here. You can tell his passion and his enthusiasm is right on point,” said Clare Mahoney, the senior unit director at the Southport Clubhouse.
Volunteers are always welcome at the Wakeman Center. For information, visit wakemanclub.org or call 203-259-4805.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to work with kids?
I started working at a summer camp in Greenwich, Camp Carefree, as a counselor when I was 14. Then worked my way up to assistant director there. I worked there for over 10 years.
Q: What does the day-to-day of your new role look like?
A: From when I get in at 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. I’m working on developing all the programs. I make the curriculum, the schedule; I make sure I have all the equipment and that all my events are planned and purposeful and that the kids aren’t just coming in and doing a random activity that doesn’t mean anything to them. I want to make sure it’s meaningful and impactful to them.
And I’m also making phone calls, talking to parents and then trying to recruit kids into the programs.
Then from 3 to 6 p.m. I’m out on the floor. Upstairs are the homework room, the arts room and the computer room. This is like my little domain up here. We sit down and help them with their homework. Some days we have art programs going on and then the computer room is open for kids to use 30 minutes a day for how they see fit, as along as it’s appropriate.
Q: Who are the kids and where do they come from?
A: Most of the people we get in here are Fairfield and Southport residents. We have buses that come from pretty much every school for the after-school program on a day-to-day basis.
The after-school program is for third- to eighth-graders. They can do arts, homework, computer or they can run around in the gym or out in the field.
When it comes to the after-school program, it’s almost free reign. The kids are supervised and there are activities, but they can bump in and out of each activity. Eight hours a day they’re getting told what to do, so it’s nice for them to be able to relax.
Q: What other sorts of programs other than after-school do you oversee?
A: I’m in charge of all the art programs. Right now we have a first- and second-grade program called Creative Kids, a third- to fifth-grade program called Art Masters and a Chefs and Canvasses program which is about to start for first- and second-graders.
For STEM, we have Lego Robotics. We have classes like Weird Science, which is a bunch of cool experiments, making slime and Rube Goldberg kind of stuff.
Other than that, I’m in charge of the “Power Hour” room, making sure all the kids get their homework done. When they finish, they get a point. You can get a point for doing your homework, reading for 20 minutes or for bringing a test or quiz in that’s an 85 or above.
If they get enough points — 15 for October — then they get to do a “Power Hour” party. It’s a little motivation for kids to get their work done. We had our first one yesterday — pizza and fried dough. The kids loved it — anything with sugar on top of it.
Q: What was your role at Kids in Crisis, the social services organization in Greenwich?
A: I was a youth counselor. We dealt with at-risk youth from Greenwich all the way to Stratford. The kids are residential, so they lived there. Any given day we would have up to 12 kids in house. We would take care of them, make sure they ate, take them to school and after-school programs.
We’d pick them up and take them to their doctors’ appointments and schedule their therapy appointments. The clinical directors and social workers worked on reunification with parents, if possible. It’s kind of like I was a guardian. I did what most parents would do on a normal day for them.
Q: How has it been getting to know this new group of kids at Wakeman?
A: It’s wonderful. It’s different from the at-risk youth, and it’s a little different from camp, but it’s been great.
They have around 300 kids every day after school. So every day you get to see a lot of faces and interact with them in different ways. You get kids who are always downstairs playing sports, then you get kids always up here doing homework, and it’s fun the days when it flip-flops. You get to interact with a plethora of kids with all different types of interests.
And the whole atmosphere — everyone’s into it, everyone is passionate about working with the kids. It’s a great place.
Q: Do you have a background in arts or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)?
A: When I went to Springfield (College) and I was doing all my major classes in youth development, they give a very broad programming education. So you sit there and you learn how to program for every type of activity, whether it’s sports, or arts or STEM. That’s pretty much how you learn.
You learn through experience, and with my experience of 10 years at (Camp Carefree) and two years at the crisis shelter, and then up here now, you just kind of catch on. I definitely didn’t specify in college that I wanted an arts, STEM and academic success program director job one day.
All I knew is that I wanted to work with kids and I wanted to make it meaningful, and I found a spot where I can do that.