Founded in 1860 by three women (of course), the Boys & Girls Clubs of America help underserved youth reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens. The clubs do this by providing hope and opportunity—through extracurricular, character development and academic support programs—in safe neighborhood centers staffed by caring adults.
A recent tour of the Little Village Club—Chicago’s oldest—demonstrates how and why this organization transforms lives. The club welcomes any child or teen to work with their committed staff, which includes beneficiaries of the club’s services who are paying it forward for support they or their children received growing up. This includes Area Club Director Hermilo Hinojosa, Program Director Angel Rivera and avid volunteer Milton Roman.
A recently renovated, inviting, well-lit gym—built with part of the proceeds from NBA star LeBron James’ foundation—is in constant use for supervised athletics. Cooperation and fair play are subtly taught in a games room. A large, impressive technology center holds 20 HP desktop computers, 10 HP laptops with touch screens, music studio tools and even video-editing technology—all connected to an extensive wireless system. The technology and wireless system were donated and installed by the Comcast Foundation to allow students to connect appropriately with and become more empowered by the broader world. Yollocalli Arts Reach Program Director Vanessa Sanchez helps youth explore their feelings and develop creative skills, which can lead to improved self confidence, additional opportunities and even careers in the arts in a new arts and technology center.
The new arts center replaces what was the radio station for 90.5 FM or WCYC (With Concern For Youth and Community), which was founded in 1969 by Harold Kopta. People who went into broadcasting careers after being in the radio station’s program include: Candi Gomez (KISS FM 103.5) Irene Mojica (WGCI 107.5) Kenny Jammin Jason (WBMX 102.7) Gabriel Rican Rodriguez (Latino Mix 93.5) Donnie Devoe (WGCI 107.5) and Rick Party (stations all across the country).
It’s easy to see how replicating this model in every underserved community could foster extraordinary change. Therefore, we enthusiastically suggest these strategies to anyone who would like to help the Boys and Girls Clubs or other well-run youth programs help underserved children too:
1. Ask businesses to donate product, rather than cash. Broadly message their support. Good businesses—like good people—want to help. It’s easier for them to give product than hard-earned cash. They are most likely to give when they know their support will be broadly messaged.
2. Use art to foster creativity and opportunity, heal emotionally. Art not only helps young people find their own voice and build confidence, it fosters creative skills that are increasingly important in the 21st century.
3. Provide life skills and leadership development programs. Ideally, families teach life skills, but many children don’t grow up in ideal circumstances.
4. Hire staff or volunteers whose lives have been helped by a similar program. Gratitude is a powerful motivator.
5. Encourage every professional athlete or team to support at least one club for underserved youth. A tiny percentage of a pro’s time or earnings can foster dramatic change for a large number of underserved youth.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America mission: To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.