farewell to The
Big Kids Club and honors its founder….WITH SLIDE SHOW
By SUNDAE HORN
Last month, the Ocracoke Youth Center sponsored a “Flat Stanley
Returns” party and potluck at the Ocracoke Community Center. Thirty
Ocracoke kids in kindergarten through second grade shared their Flat
Stanley projects, which they had worked on at the after-school Big Kids
Janet Baker, known by all as Ms. Juju, got the idea for the Flat
Stanley project from the Flat Stanley book series by Jeff Brown. In the
books, Stanley is a normal boy who is accidentally flattened one day,
after which he has many adventures when his parents discover they can
mail him off for a visit anywhere.
The Big Kids Club kids each made a Flat Stanley and mailed him off to a
friend or relative for a visit. The Flat Stanley recipients took
pictures of their Stanley on his adventures, and then mailed him back
to Big Kids Club. The Ocracoke Flat Stanleys traveled all over the
U.S., from other towns in North Carolina to Maine, New York, and
California. Some Stanleys even went as far as Austria, England, and
For the Flat Stanley party, the kids made posters showing where their
Stanleys had been. The participants were enthusiastic about taking Flat
Stanley to see the sights of their towns and taking his picture doing
all sorts of fun things. For example, Brendan Boos’ Flat Stanley went
surfing in Malibu, Calif., Chandler O’Neal’s Stanley visited a fire
station in Fire Island, N.Y., and Giselle Perez’s Stanley went down a
slide in Grifton, N.C. Stanley rode in cars, went to beaches, met
babies and dogs, and climbed trees. He appears to be happy in all his
After the kids presented their Flat Stanley projects, and just before
the potluck began, the Ocracoke Youth Center board members took some
time to honor Ms. Juju and thank her for her years of service to Big
The party was bittersweet – it combined the celebration of a fun and
educational project with a sad goodbye to the Big Kids Club. As of Dec.
16, Big Kids Club has closed its doors after eight years of quality
after-school programs for Ocracoke children.
The Big Kids Club program was the brainchild of Ms. Juju, who moved to
Ocracoke in 2001 from Malibu, Calif. Her kids were grown and had moved
away from Malibu and she was “free.” She came to work for her sister,
Mickey Baker, who co-owns The Mermaid’s Folly gift shop, but she also
started working at Ocracoke Child Care soon after she arrived.
By September, 2002, Ms. Juju realized there was a need for an
after-school program on the island, so she started one on the school
playground. She would meet the kids every day at 3, and hang out with
them supervising their play. When the weather got colder, they looked
for indoor spaces and ended up using the Fire Hall. She kept toys –
mostly Legos – in her car and had some of the bigger kids help her
carry them up the stairs at the Fire Hall and back down each day. Her
after-school idea was popular and successful enough that Hyde County
Schools agreed to pay her a small salary.
The first Flat Stanley party was at the Fire Hall. It, too, was a big
community event, bringing in parents, teachers, and the Hyde County
Schools superintendent. The kids wore Ocracoke Volunteer Fire
Department T-shirts and the BKC presented a check to Fire Chief Albert
O’Neal in thanks for the use of the Fire Hall.
By that time, Ms. Juju’s activities had reached the notice of Cynthia
Carver-Calvitti, who was then director of the fledgling non-profit
Ocracoke Youth Center. Carver-Calvitti was working on getting a Family
Resource Grant and finding a permanent home for the Youth Center.
As Ms. Juju puts it, “I just kept doing what I was doing with the kids,
and by the spring of 2003, we had the Youth Center van, thanks to Susie
O’Neal’s work on that. We could transport the kids to our new space at
the old Black Anchor Antiques shop. The kids helped get it ready – they
pulled old nails out of the walls and painted it bright colors. We
didn’t charge any money and parents and others donated snacks. Jetta
[Brown] helped out and we made sure the kids had fun.”
The Big Kids Club served 20 or more children every day, and was the
mainstay of the OYC program for years. The BKC program included outdoor
play (both at the school playground and the Youth Center play area),
homework help, snacks, games, art projects, movies, books, lots of
Lego-building and just hanging out with Ms. Juju and her teen
assistants. It ran from 3 o'clock when she would meet the kids at the
school playground, until 5:30 or 6. Parents could sign their kids up
for every day or pick the days that best fit their schedules.
The Big Kids Club program
continued to grow while OYC experienced changes in board members,
directors, and funding. After the Youth Center stopped receiving Family
Resource grant monies, the programs had to be supported with fees, and
Big Kids Club had to start charging. The money didn’t seem to matter to
parents. The Big Kids Club had full enrollment right until the end.
“I loved this program so much,” Juju said in a recent interview. “What
I did with the kids is what I believe they needed – a loving, warm
environment for problem solving, socialization, getting their homework
done, letting the second graders help the younger ones… We only had one
rule: be nice. It was cozy, like a home setting in a big family.”
She adds that “mutual respect” was an important part of her approach,
and although the Big Kids Club might have looked chaotic at times, it
was controlled chaos.
“I wanted the kids to feel like it was their program, that’s why we
called it a club. We were all part of a team, all working together,”
Ms. Juju brought the phrase “peace out” to Ocracoke from California,
and it caught on and became the BKC motto. When the kids were on the
playground, she’d raise her hands, call “peace out!” and they’d all
come running to line up for the van. If there was a disruption, “peace
out” was a signal to calm down and work things out.
Behavior problems were rare, Ms. Juju said, because of the mutual
respect and the problem solving she emphasized – and the fact that if
the behavior got bad enough, the punishment was that the kids causing
the trouble couldn’t come the next day. Nobody wanted to miss a day of
BKC. They all wanted to be with Ms. Juju.
Being a friend to children comes naturally to Ms. Juju, who earned her
nickname from a pre-K student while teaching in California. (No one
calls her Janet anymore. Ms. Juju is on her license plate, and her
2-year-old granddaughter calls her “Gamma Juju.”) She grew up on Long
Island, and her first job there, at the tender age of 18, was driving a
Good Humor ice cream truck. At Christmastime, she was an elf, spreading
cheer with Santa at Macy’s.
She started teaching preschool in California when her children were
little, and eventually she organized the original after-school Big Kids
Club at Point Dume Elementary School in Malibu. That program is still
running today, and Ms. Juju is still in touch with some of her former
students. (A few of them hosted Flat Stanleys, including Brendan Boos’
Since moving to Ocracoke, Ms. Juju has remained dedicated to kids. She
works as a substitute teacher at Ocracoke School and has been a Brownie
Girl Scout leader. She loves to help at the PTA Halloween carnival and
was a regular helper at the Books to Be Red Christmas parties for
years. In addition to Big Kids Club, Ms. Juju helps at OYC movie nights
and also did summer programs for the Youth Center -- the very popular
Hawaii camp and pirate camp. It should be mentioned that she taught
pre-K to Ocracoke School’s biggest class (the current sixth grade) and
that she did it without an aide.
Ms. Juju would have been happy to be at Big Kids Club forever. Until
the first week of October, BKC had full enrollment. But on Oct. 4, only
two kids showed up. The rest had enrolled in the new 21st Century
Community Learning Center program offered through Ocracoke School.
The 21st Century program is funded by a federal grant, and it offers
free after-school tutoring and enrichment to all students in grades
K-12. Although Ms. Juju knew that Ocracoke School had gotten the grant,
she had no idea what the impact would be on Big Kids Club.
“I felt blindsided,” she said. “It was hard to get my bearings. I think
the grant is a good thing, and I can understand parents wanting to
support the school and get on board, but I don’t think the little ones
in K-2 need that kind of program. They don’t need the tutoring
sessions, more school, more rules. They need the loving environment I
Ms. Juju and the Youth Center tried to collaborate with the 21st
Century program and combine the after-school programs. For a few
months, the kids would go to the 21st Century program until 4:30, then
Juju would pick them up in the van and bring them to Big Kids Club.
“By the time I got them, they were hungry, tired… and they started
being picked up as early as 5. It just wasn’t the same as Big Kids
Club,” she said. “My after-school program was fine the way it was, and
the new program doesn’t give them what they need.”
The decision to shut down the long-running Big Kids Club program was
not an easy one, but with the 21st Century grant in place, Ms. Juju and
the OYC board saw no choice.
Bob Chestnut, president of the volunteer OYC board, said, “This program
is going to be missed. If you could go back to when it started, you’d
see the huge difference it’s made. The kids who started Big Kids Club
are sophomores and juniors now, and I think Juju has had an
immeasurable impact on their lives and the lives of all the kids who’ve
been in it. She’ll really be missed, and I feel for the younger ones
coming up who won’t have this program.”
OYC Director Karen Lovejoy said, “I’ve never known anyone more
committed to children’s well-being than Juju. In the five years we’ve
worked together, she’s been absolutely dedicated to those kids. It’s
been wonderful year after year to see kids who’ve graduated from Big
Kids Club beg to come back and help so they can still be there. They
don’t want to leave, which says a lot for the program.”
The Flat Stanley project was the last one Ms. Juju did with the
children at Big Kids Club. During the Flat Stanley Returns party in
December, Bob Chestnut invited all the kids who’d ever gone to Big Kids
Club to come forward.
More than 50 of them, from kindergarteners to high schoolers, crowded
the stage around Ms. Juju. She thanked them for being there and then
made a request: “Raise your hand if you’re my favorite!”
It was a perfect tribute to Ms. Juju that every kid on that stage
raised a hand.
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