By: Rob Connolly, President, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
At a time when the challenges facing San Francisco often make headlines, those of us who are deeply involved in the City are frequently asked for our assessment on what is currently happening and what we expect for the future. While clearly there are complex issues that must be solved if our City and its people are to thrive, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco (BGCSF) holds a steadfast sense of optimism for San Francisco, and we are committed to doing our part to ensure its bright future.
At BGCSF, we know that optimism isn't about turning a blind eye to problems; it's about having a willingness to see the good around you and the courage to address the challenges head-on. We know that tough decisions must be made, that change can be difficult, and that not everyone will be pleased with the steps taken to make San Francisco a great place for all its people.
Our optimism is grounded in over 130 years of experience serving San Francisco. We have served this City through two World Wars, two global pandemics, the Great Depression, the Great Recession, the Great Earthquake and Fire, September 11th, and the many social challenges of the 1960s. Every time, San Francisco and its people have responded with pride, intelligence, innovation, and conviction.
Our optimism about San Francisco is also based on our own observations of the good things that are happening in our community. When we look around San Francisco, we see more than the dramatic images on national news. We see the rebuilding of the Sunnydale community, Potrero Hill, Treasure Island, and the Hunters Point Shipyard. We see new parks and playgrounds coming on line. We see Chase Center, Oracle Park, and everything that is being built in Mission Bay between these two iconic sports complexes. We welcome new women’s professional soccer and basketball teams, knowing that girls and young women will be inspired to step into their own dreams. We see thriving nonprofit organizations, both big and small, having an outsized impact on the City and its viability.
At BGCSF, we are doing our part to shape the future of San Francisco positively. We are building a new Clubhouse in Sunnydale, a community with a high concentration of youth and families and a place that has historically been one of San Francisco’s most under-resourced neighborhoods. Our new Club will open for the next school year and allow us to triple the number of youth we serve each day. In parallel, we are exploring the possibility of building a new Clubhouse in the Tenderloin. Both projects demonstrate our commitment to stepping up where kids and families need us most, tackling tough challenges, and always moving forward. We are proud to be a trusted partner that youth and families can always depend upon, regardless of income level.
While San Francisco’s current challenges are often overstated on the national level, we are not naive to the fact that many people are impacted by safety concerns, open drug use, unclean streets, closed businesses, and brazen crime. We know, too, that City Hall can too often be unfriendly to business interests, despite the need for good paying jobs for its people. To address these issues, government officials, businesses, nonprofits, academic institutions, philanthropists, families, and youth must come together, debate, and play a part in crafting solutions. Instead of pointing fingers at those who hold different viewpoints, we encourage people to roll up their sleeves and get to work on making this the place we all want to live, work, and thrive.
To this point, BGCSF is proud of the work we have done with multiple partners to achieve meaningful change for kids and families in Sunnydale. At the center of a full-scale neighborhood revitalization by Mercy Housing and Related Buildings, is the new Sunnydale Community Hub, a space that combines a state-of-the art Boys & Girls Club with neighborhood services run by Mercy Housing and a Head Start program run by Wu Yee Children’s Services. Next door, the SF Recreation & Parks Department will operate a brand new community gymnasium and has already completed construction on a new playground. Allied in this revitalization are elected officials, including Mayor Breed, Supervisor Shamann Walton, and Senator Scott Weiner. Individual philanthropists, foundations, and companies joined reputable nonprofits in this effort, providing a clear example of how ambitious endeavors can get done in this City.
Our investment in local communities is also apparent in the Tenderloin where we are actively pursuing expanding our services and building a brand-new Clubhouse. The safety struggles and street conditions in the Tenderloin are well documented. When combined with the fact that it is the most densely populated neighborhood for families in the City, the critical need for high-quality services and opportunities for more youth is undeniable. While other organizations or businesses might avoid the inherent challenges presented in this community, we recognize that children and families need us to expand and enhance our services at this time. We know that lasting change requires patience, resilience, and a long-term commitment; but it also requires a willingness to act boldly and decisively.
We have no doubt that the future of San Francisco is bright, but how we get there and how long it takes is yet to be determined. There are too many strong attributes to San Francisco, its people, and its institutions not to believe in its future. But our optimism is not an invitation to sit back and wait for things to magically get better, or to wait for others to do the heavy lifting. It's a call to action for serious people, companies, and institutions to step forward to do courageous things that will ensure that our City can once again be a great place to work and live … and a safe and positive place for kids to grow up. As I’m fond of saying, “the only reason anything happens is because someone makes it happen.” I encourage leaders in all sectors to make things happen for San Francisco and its people. I’m quite certain that the return on your investment of time, energy, and resources will be well worth it!