It’s Their Clubhouse: An Interview with Neville Hodge

The Adolescent Clubhouse serves as a haven where youth ages 12-17 can have a good meal, express their creativity, get help with schoolwork, connect with resources for recovery and explore opportunities for their future.

As a part of our 2024 Mental Health Awareness Month series on mental health challenges facing Black men and boys in Baltimore, we spoke with the Adolescent Clubhouse’s program director Neville Hodge about how his team supports Baltimore’s youth every day.

What drew you to this work?

I’m the oldest of six siblings so I’ve always been in the big brother role, and also a mentor and a role model. I started in this field at 16 at the YMCA as a youth counselor and I fell in love with giving back. So, this felt like a natural profession. I studied psychology in school, and the rest was history.  I’ve actually been at the Clubhouse for six years and held all of the other roles before becoming the program director.

What sorts of challenges do the youth – specifically Black boys and young men – at the Clubhouse face?

In addition to parents who may be absent or struggling with substance use, we are seeing more adolescents with learning disabilities or mental health issues coming to the Clubhouse. When we do meet their parents, it gives us insight into what a generational issue this is and what can happen when we don’t address these issues properly.

 We’re seeing fewer young people coming in with substance use issues, but more who are just trying to access those basic resources a lot of people take for granted. As far as the young men, they come in with a lot of anger because of their circumstances. It’s often to the point where they are finding alternative ways like dealing drugs or stealing to provide for themselves, as well as their siblings.

How do you address these challenges with these young men?

As a team, we are mindful of the full weight of these kids’ emotions and experiences. We are with them for only three hours a day whereas they are living this 24/7, so we do our best to make sure that youth know that no matter what is going on at home, they can come to the Clubhouse to get resources like food, help with school or a calm place to nap. It’s also refreshing for students to come into a space where the staff looks like them. It’s different than school and just makes things a lot more relatable for them. It helps build that trust.

So often these young men have shut down or are angry because they feel like they have to be the parent, and their parents are the children. So, we combat that by reminding them that it’s okay to play and be an adolescent. They are not responsible for their parents’ choices.

Overall, we want to help build up their self-esteem so they can pursue their goals for a better life by assuring them that they’re not only important to us, but their presence and personality are vital to the community. We’re intentional about letting them know it’s THEIR club house.

What are some of the goals youth bring to you and how do you help them take steps towards meeting those goals?

Most of them want to get jobs so they can make money.  Even though they might not be old enough to get job, we work with them to identify skillsets. We brainstorm ways they can start earning money using their talents, like drawing, music or even something like putting equipment together.

Many just want to finish high school, so when they’re at the Clubhouse, we dedicate time to helping them with school work so that they can complete that first educational step of getting a diploma and then pursue longer term goals like opening their own businesses.

We want to encourage confidence and redirect their energy in a positive way. For example, there is a young man who is an amazing trumpet player. When he’s not at his best, we’ll ask him to play us something and you see his whole demeanor change in a positive way. We want these young men to feel celebrated.

How can the community at large help support Black boys as they’re working towards bettering their own situations?

Lately, we’ve been seeing older adolescents come in and I’m anticipating that will continue because they’re just tired of seeing what their peers and parents are going through. They really do want something better for themselves and we want to encourage that by equipping youth with tools and resources they can use even when they’re not at the Clubhouse. And, we want to expand that list to include things like the 988 helpline.

And really, the most vital piece is increasing parental involvement. A lot of the issues adolescents are trying to cope with stem from issues with their parents, so we’ve started hosting quarterly parent nights. This gives us a chance to build rapport and get a fuller picture of what a student might be dealing with at home. The growth has been slow but steady, and we’re hoping for more involvement the longer we’re in the community.

How do you and your team manage your own mental health?

Personally, I love to travel. My team knows that when I’m traveling, I am fully unavailable because any other time, I am always available.

As a team, we have staff development every three months that includes self-care and mental health check-ins. I always encourage my team to take the days that they need as well and remind them that it’s okay to take a step back if they need.  Sometimes there are rough days, and while that’s what we signed up for, it’s also okay to not be okay. At the end of the day, we decompress as a team. If we need to switch schedules around or hold a mediation session between a student and a staff person. We just try to extend grace to each other so we can show up for our youth.

Learn more about The Adolescent Clubhouse here and find more resources for Baltimore City youth and families here.