August 15, 2018

At the 2018 Annual Gala, BGCSF President Rob Connolly gave an inspirational speech about how the Club helps create pathways to success for young people in San Francisco. His full speech is available below as a video and transcript.

Thank you all for being here tonight to celebrate the work of Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco. Tonight, of course, is about raising money to fund the programs and services that we offer to 19,700 youth each year. But it is also about celebrating childhood and bearing witness as young people display their talent and push the limits of their confidence. And it’s about bringing together like-minded people who believe in the power and potential of young people and the importance of Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco.

At Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, we believe passionately that opportunities for lifelong success should be within the grasp of every single child. Period. Full Stop. And we believe the world is a better place when it works for everyone. Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco never stops pushing for break-through solutions and to expand the impact of the work, to reach more youth, to reach new neighborhoods, and develop new programs.

What this organization has built here over the past 20 years has been a very strategic, very methodical, very determined effort to make BGCSF into a rock solid institution that children, teens, and families can depend on day after day, month after month, and year after year for decades to come. Today, we have 14 locations: eight traditional Clubhouses, four school-based sites, a city park, and Camp Mendocino. In August, we will open our fifteenth location. This will be another public school site, located in George Washington Carver Elementary School in Bayview Hunters Point.

Currently, each day we reach 1,703 youth. Every week, we reach 2,385. And our goal is to grow to 2,000 youth served per day within two years, a 17% increase. Most sites are open 225 days per year, and the Don Fisher Clubhouse is open close to 260 days. The scope is impressive, but not nearly the whole story. The eight youth you heard from at the end of the video are the story. The youth featured in tonight’s program are the story. For us, it is always about both breadth and depth. High numbers of kids served and deep impact on individual kids’ lives.

At BGCSF we unleash the power and potential of people. When young people are confident and when they see a path forward and a place that they fit in, they make decisions that support a healthier life for themselves and their community. They choose education. They choose leadership opportunities and seek job skills that they know they need. They steer clear of a destructive path and choose a path to a bright future. Potential is realized not wasted.

But while our work is focused on young people, our impact is far greater. We support parents, allowing them to go to work - sometimes at a second, third, or even fourth job. We help them build their own skills and confidence for raising their children.

We expose adults in our city to each other through Board roles, community events, and corporate and individual volunteer projects. We inspire empathy and understanding where too little of each too often exists. We allow people to see and experience problems and injustices that they might not otherwise notice.

Depending on your level of involvement, this organization puts you on the ground in neighborhoods and has you grapple with the complexities of an organization that works every day in communities that hide their most beautiful attributes behind the hard exterior that comes from broken promises, failed services, too many young lives lost, and on the horizon - always it seems -more disappointment.

I am very comfortable saying that when someone truly engages with this organization - when someone really digs in and gets to know the staff, the kids and the families - they develop a deep admiration and a true understanding that what we do works.

And it does. From national winners in fine arts, dance, and basketball, to gold medals in swimming, to National Program Excellence recognition, to world-class partnerships, to college and high school scholarships and individual awards, to high school graduation and lifetime success. It works.

And at the end of the video you saw earlier, you saw our alumni highlighting the positive effect of the Club. You saw their enthusiasm. You saw the connection they keep with the Club. You saw young people not just dreaming, but realizing dreams.
You saw hope. You saw lives transforming before you. You saw gratitude and trust. You saw kids wanting to share their success knowing that staff -- sometimes -- need to be reminded that what we do – every day – works.

Since 2013, we have added six locations – five of them inside of schools – and opened our state-of-the-art Don Fisher Clubhouse in the Western Addition. And in two-and-a-half years we expect to replace our Sunnydale Clubhouse serving 40 kids with a Clubhouse serving 140 kids, and we’ll do so in partnership with Mercy Housing. Our tiny, old three-room Clubhouse, owned by the housing authority, will become a state-of-the art Clubhouse. The facility will be linked to a Rec & Park field, pool, and – perhaps – a new gymnasium.

When we complete this project, we will be serving 665 youth per day in District 10 with sites in Bayview, on Hunters Point Hill, in Vis Valley, and in Sunnydale: the City’s most economically depressed areas.

I firmly believe that our nation needs to change in some big ways. We need to reboot. From where I sit, it is very clear that too many people across this nation are being left behind. That human potential is being wasted as dreams go unrealized, and as hope gives way to despair, for too many.

One in three children in this country grow up poor. We rank 36th of the 41 wealthiest countries in the world for child poverty.

Our child mortality rate is 6.1 out of 1,000. A child born in the U.S. is three times more likely to die in the first year than a child born in Japan or Finland. 43 million people in this country live in poverty. 43 million. And the measurement of poverty is wrong. It might be 80 million!

Why do we allow this to be so? Why is there anything – anything at all – that is partisan about tackling these problems?

I believe that as a society we will continue to come up short if we don’t rethink the investment it takes to meet the incredibly important – and ambitious – missions that our best nonprofits have.

I recently heard someone say, “People are weary of being asked to do the minimum they can possibly do for philanthropic causes …but they are yearning to reach their full potential for causes that they love.”

I like that. I’m challenged by that. The clear challenge for people like me is how to inspire people to love Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco to such an extent that they help us do things that, today, we don’t have the courage to imagine we can do. I’m a huge believer that the only reason anything happens in this world is that someone makes it happen.

So I invite you all to do something extraordinary for causes that you love. Of course, I’d love it if your cause was at-risk kids, and I’d love it even more if your organization was BGCSF.

But forget that for a moment. Do something extraordinary for something you truly believe in, and do it for no other reason than to make the world a better place for people live.

I’ve said many times that “our gift to our community is our staff.” I believe that American heroes aren’t just first responders or soldiers, sailors and airmen. Our staff stand in the gap in kids’ lives and say, “I will not let you down. I will not let you give up.
I will stand with you.”

Our staff endure set-backs and failures but they show up again and again, day after day, week after week, and year after year. They do it for too little pay and way too little recognition. For the contribution they make to our community, I’d like for the staff of Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco to stand and be recognized.

I want to conclude tonight with a personal story. My niece is a Psychology graduate student at NYU. For the past year she has been doing her fieldwork in Newark, NJ in a group home for boys. She works with a bunch of boys but one in particular won a place in her heart.

He’s a young man with three siblings, who all experienced significant abuse in their home. They all became wardens of the state. All three of his siblings have since been adopted. He remains in the group home. He’s 10. At 10, he’s been abused by those he was supposed to be able to trust. And he has been told through actions – repeatedly – that he’s worthless. Imagine how a 10 year old feels. Really, imagine it.

I’ve heard empathy defined as having the courage to see each other’s pain and be willing to stand in the presence of it, even when it becomes uncomfortable.

Last week, my niece had to separate from him as a professional response at the end of her semester. She was devastated.

My 4-year-old daughter, Malena, heard my wife and I talking about this. And looking up with her big eyes and in her precocious manner says, “Why doesn’t the little boy go to the Boys & Girls Club?”

Millions of kids in this country who need a Boys & Girls Club don’t have one. And thousands of kids in San Francisco who need a Boys & Girls Club experience don’t get one.

I feel honored to be President of BGCSF, and I always have. Thank you all for believing and caring. And thank you for ensuring that the best days of this 127-year old institution continue to lie ahead of it. Thank you.

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