Though it is the third tier on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and is preceded by physiological needs and safety, Derek Dewitt believes that tending to one’s sense of belonging is fundamental to one’s well-being, and has significant effects on one’s ability to function biologically and feel a sense of safety.
Derek is the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford and Cecil counties. He lives in Perryville, MD and works closely with No More Stolen Childhoods and other partnering organizations in order to promote child welfare within the state.
The Boys & Girls Club is a youth development organization providing out of school programming for kids ages 6-18. Its programs focus on character and leadership development, academic support, and healthy living. As long as you are in school and working towards a high school diploma, you are welcome to become a member of the club. Membership for an entire school year is only $20, which gives kids the opportunity to pay by themselves with their self-earned money.
When I asked Derek about the importance of having spaces like the Boys & Girls Club, his answer was straightforward. “Because they don’t have it otherwise,” he explained, “and I think the alternative is bleak.”
Outside of their school environments, a lot of children do not have the opportunities for connectivity with other kids and adult mentors that are plentiful in the classroom. But life at the Boys & Girls club is different: here, kids are able to foster senses of belong, community, and family with one another. They are able to get the support that they may be lacking in other areas of their lives and receive the encouragement to better themselves. Here, they are made to understand that there is a place that can be a safe haven for them.
Derek strongly believes in the minimization of trauma which is at the core of what No More Stolen Childhoods aims to do on a daily basis. In making childhood sexual abuse a tangible, visible problem, NMSC helps to educate BGC front-line staff and other mandatory reporters about what to look for in children who are suffering from this type of abuse. Derek sees it as the utmost importance for these responsible adults to know how to properly address and respond to CSA.
Derek’s biggest hope is for child welfare to be prioritized by adults. It is not enough for individuals to think that it would be nice for it to be prioritized, but recognize that it must be. It is crucial that we address the challenges that kids face, for confronting them is the answer to all of their other issues. In this way, in this cultivation of a secure sense of belonging, we can raise a kinder and more responsible generation.