At a recent conference in Winnipeg I had the pleasure of visiting The Forks, an area located at the junction of two large rivers....
It’s a sunny spring afternoon as a yellow school bus filled with chattering kids pulls up to a sprawling facility in Columbia. Kids pile out, backpacks slung over their shoulders, chatting amongst themselves as they enter the building. At the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia, a nonprofit that provides kids with afterschool programs, they spend their afternoons in a structured, safe and supervised environment. And they have a whole lot of fun, too.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of America was established in 1860 with three women who believed boys who roamed the streets should have a positive alternative. The organization’s name was changed in 1990 to Boys & Girls Clubs of America to recognize girls were part of the organization as well. Currently, there are more than 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs all over the United States. The Columbia location was established in 1997.
“A few community members established the very necessity of having a place for kids,” says Valorie Livingston, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Columbia area. “They asked the national organization to come in and evaluate our community, and they said, ‘Yes, this is the perfect community for a charter organization.’”
Boys & Girls Clubs’ mission is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” At $20 a semester, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia provides afterschool programs to children ages 6 to 18 and focuses on three core program areas, which include Academic Success, Healthy Lifestyles and Good Character and Citizenship. It also offers summer programming at $25 a week.
“We go out and look for program partners and pull nationally evidence-based programs as well as create our own programs based upon what we think our kids are interested in,” Livingston says. “All of the programs we produce have to fit within one of our three core program areas.”
Examples of program activities at the Boys & Girls Clubs include Girl Scouts, Torch Club, Keystone Club, Project Learn, Technology Lab, Career Launch Program, Passport to Manhood, Smart Moves/Girls/Leaders, The Arts, First Position Dance Group and more.
“All of the Boys & Girls Clubs charters function autonomously even though we are part of national movement, so we form all local relationships,” Livingston says. “We have to raise all of our own money, pay all of our own bills and make all of our own local decisions based on what’s best for our own club.”
By partnering with other local organizations, such as the Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs offers opportunities for kids from low-income families to participate in a variety of afterschool programs. Without being enrolled at the Boys & Girls Clubs, those kids might not have been able to participate in such structured and beneficial programs.
Finding the resources
In 2014, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia served more than 723 kids at three different sites through afterschool and summer programming. The three sites include the large youth facility located on Seventh Street, a school site at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School and the Ridgeway Teen Center.
“Having a school site is very cost effective,” Livingston says. “They have all the resources we need — the gymnasium, computers, playground — and they have everything to support all of their academic needs for the kids getting their homework done and promoting academic success. So that allowed us to serve a lot more kids when we opened up the Alpha Hart Lewis site in 2013.”
Livingston says the school site alleviates one of the biggest challenges the organization faces: transportation. Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia has two 15-passenger fans and one 55-passenger bus, but the organization still cannot pick up all the kids who do not have transportation from school to the youth facility.
“A lot of kids can’t come to the Boys & Girls Clubs because they can’t get here,” Livingston says. “School buses don’t bring them, and if their parents are working, they have no choice but to ride the bus home. And then we know at home, there probably isn’t an adult. Most of the families we serve are single-family households, so they’re at home either watching their siblings or taking care of each other in an unsupervised, unsafe environment where they become a little promiscuous and begin making some bad decisions.”
Most of the children enrolled at the Boys & Girls Clubs come from single-parent households and low-income families, but everyone is eligible to enroll. Children are enrolled on a first come, first serve basis, and if a child is already a member of the Boys & Girl’s Clubs, he or she has first-read refusal and has his or her space saved every year, which is important because the organization currently has a waiting list.
“Research dictates the more often you’re able to touch a kid, and the stronger relationship you can build with a child, the more impact you’re going to have in their life,” Livingston says. “So we want kids to renew every year for our afterschool program and every summer in the summertime so that we can continue to mentor them, build relationships with them and provide support for their families.”
Funding the program
A typical day for a child at the Boys & Girls Clubs begins with being served a healthy and hot meal. The first hour of programming after all the kids eat is about academic success, which focuses on literacy, math and homework completion. For the second hour of programming, the kids get to choose between five to 10 programs at any given time, whether that be going to the art room, music room or playing outside.
“Every hour, the kids get to rotate to a different kind of program based upon their interest and what they consider to be fun,” Livingston says. “What they [the kids] don’t realize is that every program is carefully planned to be learning experience, and of course fun is a big part of that. Kids have to have fun, but they can still learn in a very positive manner.”
In order to provide various programs and opportunities to accommodate the diverse interests among all the kids enrolled, major fundraising has to be done. According Livingston, it costs the Boys & Girls Clubs about $2,500 to provide programs for one kid for an entire year. The organization is trying to get 700 sponsorships at $2,500 each to provide all the program opportunities, operation costs and field trips the kids receive. The goal for this year is to raise $1.5 million.
“A lot of partners are in-kind; they will come in and offer their services for free instead of charging the club,” Livingston says. “A large portion of our funding is from the community. It’s from the donors that live here and want the community to be safe and to help kids that need help. About 20 percent is from corporations with gifts, about 20 percent comes from grants, and a large portion comes from special events, like our Rootin’ Tootin’ Chili Cookoff and Hoops for a Cause.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs Program Community Partners include Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Lucky’s Market, Columbia Mall, the University of Missouri Athletic Department, Maplewood Barn Theatre, Columbia College, The Blue Note, Girls on the Run, Civic Groups, Missouri Contemporary Ballet, Columbia Public Schools, Youth Community Coalition, Veterans United, MU Service Learning Department, Columbia Youth Basketball Association and MAC Scholars.
Looking toward the future, the Boys & Girls Clubs has a goal to serve more teens, and the organization believes the best way to achieve that is to build a gymnasium.
“We hope to kick off our capital campaign in January 2016 to build a multipurpose gymnasium at our Seventh Street site,” Livingston says. “We feel that if we build a new gymnasium, we’re going to automatically be able to serve more teenage kids, and being across from Hickman High School is a prime location to build a gymnasium that older kids will actually want to be at.”
Matt Moore, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs Board of Directors, strongly believes in the power of the organization; he is a former member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Little Rock, Arkansas.
“The club brings a sense of security and structure to a lot of children that have that need,” Moore says. “With the work of an outstanding board and Valorie’s leadership, we have experienced tremendous growth and seen our facilities improve. We now want to build a gym, and I just want the opportunity to give back to an organization that helped develop me.”