March 4, 2019

At BGCSF, we see many youth struggle when they are worried about uncertainties in their life and feel as though they don’t have the ability to fix them. Whether it be their family’s safety, their ability to live in San Francisco’s rapidly changing demographics, or other concerns for the future, our Club youth face problems beyond their years. While these worries often become feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and can transition into depressive or anxious symptoms, having a safe space to explore their concerns and the unknowns helps our members identify where they do have influence and also provides a space for them to feel sad, angry, or confused.

According to a 2018 report from Children Now, only 35% of California youth in need of help for emotional or mental health problems received counseling. Always innovative and progressive, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco (BGCSF) has worked to reverse this trend. BGCSF was one of the first Boys & Girls Club organizations in the country to offer on-site, trauma-informed individual and family therapy and social emotional supports within the after-school youth development setting. We offer this service at no out-of-pocket cost to our families. Providing a safe space for youth to talk about their tensions and social insecurities leads to healthier development and a stronger relationship between youth and their goals. In addition, having an outlet to discuss life problems increases a youth’s sense of safety and ability to concentrate, while also helping them create a stronger support network and better understanding of their emotions.

Since 2004, BGCSF’s Behavioral Health Services (BHS) has provided culturally competent, child-centered, and trauma-informed mental health support for BGCSF members. BHS is part of our Club communities, complementary to the work of our staff, and embedded into our after-school programming. We focus on making connections between what a child has experienced or is currently experiencing and the resulting emotions, so as to reduce any shame, while also instilling a lifelong acceptance of asking for support as needed.

Behavioral health is the larger umbrella term encompassing mental health, addictions, and social supports and is infused into everything we do at BGCSF. The term is meant to welcome all individuals to accept support, as well as reduce barriers for finding the “right” way to start services. It has been vital to challenging the stigma of mental health, wherein support is often misinterpreted to mean there is something wrong with a person or they are crazy in some way. But at the Club, our members have benefited from early exposure to support, normalization of the process, and increased access to services.

Without support, some youth start experiencing emotional interference in their daily tasks at school, home, and within the community. However, members who access behavioral health frequently report feeling heard and recognizing the connections between their feelings and their behaviors. When they want to change how they feel, they look for someone to support them with their feelings, which then results in improvements in other areas of their life. BGCSF offers support in social settings, with family, in academic settings, and in community settings, allowing us to adapt to youth needs as they evolve and ensure better outcomes.

BHS provides a crucial way for kids to enhance their resiliency and cope with hardships, which enables them to achieve the things they want in life. With the added benefits of BGCSF’s strong and consistent programming and positive adult relationships, our members are supported through various phases in life.

If you would like more information about Behavioral Health Services at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, please contact Debby Machold at dmachold@kidsclub.org.



Deborah K. Machold, MA, MSW, LCSW

Citywide Director of Behavioral Health Services


Debby Machold is a 26-year behavioral health professional with 14 years at BGCSF

The artwork used in this post is from Columbia Park Club member Kylie, age 12

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