Lashley Helps Kids Build Confidence, ‘healthy Mind’ at Boys & Girls Club
By Scott Shurtleff
LEOMINSTER -- Tessa Lashley builds more than kinetics, she builds relationships.
The Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster volunteer leads the kinetics group and also offers free mental health advice and counseling, but in a less than clinical way.
She spends her days as full-time psychologist for the Gardner School District while dedicating her afternoons to children at the club.
To Lashley, the dual volunteer roles are complementary to each other.
“The hands-on aspect of building things is a vital component to mental health. The social skills, feelings of success, pride, self esteem that come from teamwork and completion are major contributions to a healthy mind,” she said.
“I want to make mental health cool and remove the stigma,” she said, emphasizing the “health” element.
The kinetic program is mentored by Lashley and led by her enthusiastic son, Dean. Kinetics is a branch of science that studies the relationship of force to motion in both mechanical and chemical reactions.
“He builds some of these things at home then works with other children here at the club,” she said.
Alex Benson-Cruz, a 13-year-old Sizer School student, and other group members help Dean build the models. The students design, build, troubleshoot and rebuild the motor-less aid machines.
“The entire STEM program here at the club is amazing, diverse and very popular,” said the club’s Executive Director Donata Martin. “We are so grateful that volunteers like Tessa help us expand on the options and exposure.”
Lashley mostly organizes the group and leaves the engineering and construction up to the students.
“That is how healthy minds are built, whether its kinetics or computer graphics or electronics,” said Lashley. “It’s not always about taking a clinical approach to therapy. We meet them where they are (and) push them together to promote strong social skills.”
Beside her, the machines gently sling plastic spheres from a swinging arm, into a slot and then down a chute. Using only gravity and counter-mechanisms, the structure serves as a primitive, yet elaborate, perpetual-motion apparatus -- the less intervention, the better; like Lashley’s general approach to psychology.
“I love the B&G Club,” Lashley said. The varying options of activities and the social aspect are natural and effective building blocks of mental health, she said. “I just want to be part of it.”
Lashley, whose two children are members, is one of dozens of volunteers who assist with STEM and scores of other programs at the club. The 600-plus members often participate in several activities over a single visit.