By: Rob Connolly
President, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
Summer is always a great opportunity for youth to unwind and simply be kids. Clearly, young people have been through way too much over the last two and a half years, and in response, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco is determined to make this summer a time of joy for all Club members!
Young people deserve this carefree time to laugh, socialize, and engage with the world in a stress-free way. At our Clubs and Camp Mendocino, this summer is a time for fun, exploration, skill-building, and self-discovery. Our kids and staff are fired up for summer, and there is a real sense of optimism and joy throughout our Clubs. As soon as you walk through the front doors, you can feel the buzz of excitement!
As always, our Clubhouses continue to adhere to the current City and County COVID-19 health guidelines, but we are also excited to be pushing forward to a bright future. Our commitment to standing shoulder to shoulder with our families is at the heart of our work and we remain dedicated to supporting and even encouraging their transition back to normalcy. BGCSF is bringing back more and more activities, programs, experiences, and partnerships. We are thrilled to be resuming field trips, increasing access to sports and other enrichment activities, and welcoming many more kids to Camp Mendocino, our residential summer camp, and our aquatics center at the Don Fisher Clubhouse.
Summertime provides a lot more time to extend programming beyond our Clubhouses. Members regularly participate in field trips as well as unique and specialized programming through high-quality partnerships.
Field trips allow members to explore the City and expand their horizons. Thirty-five (35) elementary and middle school members from our Tenderloin Clubhouse just visited Golden Gate Park for a day of outdoor adventure, including visiting the Botanical Garden and enjoying one of the City’s largest playgrounds. Last week, our Excelsior Clubhouse served over 250 members each day. Small-group field trips enabled this Club to provide valuable, age-appropriate opportunities to each age group. The Excelsior teens chose to visit Japantown to learn more about cultural traditions and try some local food. The same week, over 30 members from our San Francisco Community School School-Based-Club explored Crissy Field and had an incredible time at the Trampoline Park, House of Air.
For our neighborhoods that are more geographically disconnected, the opportunity to see and experience the rest of the city is especially important in the summertime. Youth from our Sunnydale and Visitacion Valley Clubhouses are participating in the MeWater Foundation program this summer. This partnership includes field trips to local beaches, complete with surfing lessons and instruction on ocean safety. Over 30 elementary and middle school members from our Willie Mays Clubhouse at Hunters Point recently traveled to Ghirardelli Square and Aquatic Park, visiting a part of town that was completely new to most of them.
Summer also allows us to break down boundaries and bring our kids from across the City together. Many of our most-loved summer programs engage members from multiple Clubhouses. This includes our Junior Giants program at our Willie Mays Clubhouse which reaches nine Clubs and over 175 youth. The Swim Academy and Aquatics program at our Don Fisher Clubhouse in the Western Addition is bringing 275 youth from across the city to participate in recreational swim activities and swim lessons. These opportunities allow kids to build friendships and interact with other young people from different backgrounds and beyond their individual neighborhoods.
Bringing youth together from across the City is especially relevant to broadening the horizons of our teens. The flexibility of summer allows us to focus teen programs on job readiness, leadership development, and career exploration opportunities. Our teens recently participated in a career exposure event at Deloitte’s offices in San Francisco. Through experiences like this, our young people build connections, discover what interests them, and learn what is necessary to set themselves up for college or other learning opportunities beyond high school.
Summer also allows our high school members to gain valuable work experience in our Clubhouses. This season, over 100 teens are interning at our Clubs through programs such as the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program (MYEEP) and our Leaders In Training (LIT) program. These opportunities are specifically designed to support teens, allowing them to develop leadership, communication, and job readiness skills.
The Club provides a safe, supportive, and inclusive place for youth to be (and to belong) year-round, but the length of time that we serve youth over the summer is significantly longer than during the school year. Many youth join us for eight to 10 hours a day for nine weeks. This allows for a real depth in relationship building. Our Clubhouses have a family feel and many youth consider it a second home. During the summer, we see this evolve further as older kids become especially close with their staff mentors. They learn to support younger youth throughout the day — both formally by assisting with programming, and informally by modeling good behavior.
Our summer program has always encompassed an academic component to encourage academic growth over the summer months. This year, we are more focused than ever on ensuring our academic programs are fun and engaging. Our curriculum includes lots of interactive activities such as vocabulary bingo and fun math skill-building challenges. We are also excited for the return of our annual Citywide Team Spelling Bee where our Clubs across San Francisco come together to compete for team prizes.
Beyond the Clubs, one of the best opportunities BGCSF provides young people in the summertime is the opportunity to attend our residential summer camp in Mendocino County. This will be the 90th summer that we are able to welcome youth ages 8–18 to experience the magic of Camp Mendocino’s deep-rooted legacy.
Our 2,000 acres of wooded seclusion provides a magical setting that allows campers to connect with nature and with each other — away from technology and other daily distractions and challenges. Youth ages 8–14 have the opportunity to participate in unique skill-building and confidence-building activities such as rock climbing, swimming, archery, kayaking and mountain biking. Teens ages 15–17 participate in the Counselors-in-Training program.
For both campers and Counselors-In-Training, spending 10 days away from the City, their family, and their familiar daily life is an incredible opportunity to build independence and take risks in a safe and supportive environment. Many youth return for several years and develop a strong affinity for and a sense of ownership of the Camp Mendocino experience. They build connections and friendships that are incredibly meaningful in their development. Every summer, there are numerous former campers who come back to Camp to work as adults.
At BGCSF, we are focused on broadening our members’ horizons and providing access to hope and opportunity. Summer offers a critical complement to our school-year programming by providing incredible opportunities for youth to learn beyond the Clubhouse, access a range of incredible experiences, and build deep and lasting relationships with peers and staff. Above all, we are thrilled to support youth as they reconnect with all the joy, excitement, and pure fun that should be a part of childhood!
Check out our 2022 summer photos here!
BGCSF is currently offering free support and training to Black-serving and Black-led individuals and organizations participating in The Dream Keeper Initiative, a citywide effort launched in 2021 to reinvest $120 million over two years into San Francisco’s diverse Black communities.
April is Arab American Heritage Month and I am excited to both reflect on what this month means to me personally and share how BGCSF and Camp Mendocino engage Arab youth and their families.
We are pleased to highlight a member of our Senior Leadership Team, Erin Gutierrez. Erin has served the BGCSF community for 15 years. Her experience spans multiple roles across the organization and provides a powerful and unique perspective on the holistic impact of BGCSF.