By Rob Connolly
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
For over 12 months now, BGCSF has stood in the gap in kids’ lives, addressing the loss, stress, anxiety, loneliness, fear, frustration, and isolation that too many youth, of all ages, are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. From the first moments that San Francisco began shutting down in early March 2020, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco was determined to be open and available to kids and families. Immediately and on an ongoing basis, we measured the risk of being open versus the risk of being closed, understanding that for many of our youth members and families the Club being closed could create dire situations with potentially severe consequences. We contacted San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families on March 16th and told them that it was our intention to remain open despite the shelter-in-place order and asked them to help us achieve that goal. The City was grateful and moved to name us an “essential business.” Together, we got to work.
Our decision to remain open was not met with universal approval — not surprisingly. Rightfully, many were scared and confused by the onset of the virus in our region. But we were confident we were right and we were confident we had the discipline and resources to do the work well, despite the challenges around us. We regularly educated our staff about local health orders and established safety protocols that complied with SFDPH directives and the best thinking nationally. We moved quickly and with purpose. We were proud to be there for our youth members and their families at the time they needed us the most.
Spring 2020 was hard. Like so many others, we were driving the car at 70 miles per hour while we changed the tires. No one was ready for school closures — not schools, not kids, not families, and not us. For so many kids at home, a lack of access to computers, subadequate WIFI speeds, lack of space to quietly do school work, and a lack of support for the more complicated school work, put them in a tough, tough spot. Having our doors open for youth was a great help, but just as importantly was the virtual Clubhouse platform that we launched across the city. Over the summer, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco joined the SF Rec & Park Department and other nonprofits to launch summer camps that were safe, fun, engaging, and memorable for kids. Then, starting on the first day of school in August, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco kicked off a new distance-learning model at twelve locations, eventually rolling that effort into the City's Community Hub Initiative. In total, over 800 youth per week have been participating in Boys & Girls Club programs — in person or virtually — this school year.
Today, our attention has turned to the final chapter of the pandemic and the recovery. Over the coming 12 to 36 months, every program or service that BGCSF offers will be done with two stated purposes: mitigating learning loss and strengthening the social and emotional health and wellbeing of youth. Our plan is to invest significantly in both these areas. For so many young people, we need to rebuild their social connections and restore their faith and trust in the support systems and caring adult relationships that had meant so much to them. As a leading nonprofit organization, regionally, statewide, and nationally, we have the ability — directly and through our example — to make a tremendous impact on how youth, families, and communities recover and move past this pandemic. We view that body of work with a deep, deep sense of responsibility, but also with tremendous excitement and a passion to serve.
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.