In the past year, we’ve seen teens take the lead on important issues like climate change, gun control, and the dangers of vaping. As emerging leaders, it’s essential for teens to feel comfortable expressing themselves and to lean into their convictions. Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco (BGCSF) recognizes the importance of encouraging “youth voice” as a tool to shape and drive change at the Clubs and in the community. Recently, our teens had a unique opportunity to develop their advocacy and leadership skills at our 2019 Keystone Club Retreat at BGCSF’s Camp Mendocino.
The Keystone Club program provides leadership development and community engagement opportunities for young people ages 14 to 18. Keystone Clubs are specific to each Clubhouse, with teen leaders at that Club serving in officer position and an adult serving as an advisor. Throughout the year, youth participate in activities centered around the four pillars of the Keystone program: academic success, career preparation, community service, and teen outreach. The goal of each Keystone Club is to have a positive impact on its members, their Club, and their community.
More than 70 BGCSF staff and teens from across the City made the four-hour trip to Camp Mendocino, BGCSF’s 2,000-acre residential summer camp in the redwoods of Northern California. For some, Camp is their first experience away from home and their first experience in the great outdoors. Camp’s distinctive setting as the backdrop for the retreat made the weekend even more memorable and impactful for everyone.
Working together across Clubhouses, six Keystone leaders took ownership of the retreat, spending considerable time planning its agenda and lining up its two keynote speakers—Ariel Ajagu, a youth development consultant and former Director of Career Pathway Programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula; and Ivan Corado-Vega, Manager of High School and Bridge Programs at Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), a former staff leader at BGCSF, Keystone Club member, and Clubhouse Youth of the Year. The content of these keynotes were complemented by youth development sessions and programs that taught important leadership skills, encouraged collaboration, and gave teens a sense of ownership over their Clubhouse and community.
With creative names like “Keepin’ it One Hunnit” and “Tryna Get Clout”, the retreat’s youth development sessions opened doors for their participants, teaching them skills like building a personal brand, developing their professionalism, organizing their communities, networking, and more. Harnessing what they had learned, teens collaborated with their peers to map out their life goals, gain perspective on problems with which they struggle, and build ideas from inception to execution.
Following the youth development sessions, teens reinforced their commitment to service by working together to stain the picnic tables at Camp. With more than 40 teens assisting, the task was completed in less than an hour. Through this example, Keystone Club members were shown the effectiveness of working together to complete a common goal.
After a brief lunch, Keystone Club members participated in a fun track of activities that fostered stronger connections between teens and their mentors. Some went on hikes, some played basketball, and some took part in a ropes course challenge that required teamwork to succeed. All activities strengthened the social bonds between teens from across the City and gave the teens an opportunity to just have fun.
To close out the weekend, youth and staff took part in a talent show. After a weekend focused on strengthening their voice as advocates, Keystone Club teens shared that talent in front of 70 peers and staff in fun and creative ways.
Talking with the teens who participated in the retreat, it was clear the activities already had them approaching life in newer, bolder ways. Angel, 17, a ten-year member at the Willie Mays Clubhouse, spoke of how the experience inspired her to find innovative ways to impact her community as a leader. “When we were talking about what we can do for our Club, they got us thinking outside the box and this brought new ideas to me. It got me thinking about how I can help my community … and the strength I have as a leader.”
Isis, 16, a first-year member at Columbia Park Clubhouse, felt that being away from her comfort zone made her realize the power of her own voice. “I’m usually a shy person, but what we did here let me meet new people and do things that helped me get over my shyness. Talking about why we participate in Keystone Club and what we hope to get out of it was very helpful. It opened my eyes to a lot of things Keystone Club can do for me - things that I hadn’t even thought of.”
For staff and guests in attendance, the growth experienced by youth was apparent as well. Winnie Phan, a BGCSF alumna and High School Services Coordinator at the Tenderloin Clubhouse, spoke of how the retreat opened the eyes of youth and built their confidence. “With an event like this, they’re learning how to bond with one another but also how other Clubhouses work,” said Winnie. “Being around so many different kids builds confidence in how they approach a situation and introduces new tactics for handling problems in life.”
Ivan Corrado-Vega, one of the event’s keynote speakers and a BGCSF alum, touched on the importance of tradition in the Keystone Club and how opportunities like this help teens develop their voice. “Participating in this event reminds me of how the Keystone Club impacted me,” Ivan began. “The Keystone Club I grew up with was central to my growth as an advocate in my community. To be a leader, to have your Keystone Club jacket on, to be the one planning events and community service opportunities, meant everything to me. To be an alumni now and to pass that knowledge on is incredibly important to me.”
BGCSF is committed to developing a new generation of leaders who are ready to speak out on the issues that affect them and their community. Our 2019 Keystone Club Retreat delivered on that promise, giving youth leadership and advocacy tools that they will use long into their adult lives.
The Keystone Club is just one way that we inspire youth to develop good character and become leaders in their communities. To learn about other ways BGCSF helps teens take the lead on issues that affect them, check out our character and leadership page. To get your teen involved in activities like this, visit our dedicated pages for teens and parents and learn more about becoming a member.
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.