By Rob Connolly, President and Harold Love, Vice President of Club Services
March 16th will mark the two-year anniversary of our City’s Shelter-In-Place Public Health Ordinance and the declaration of Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco as an essential business. Through immense staff dedication, intricate planning, and some complicated protocols, our Clubhouse doors have stayed open throughout the various twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was not easy. Despite the incredible challenges involved, we remained resolute in our decision to remain open. We understood the critical services we were providing and we are proud to have been part of the support system that helped this City overcome the worst days of the pandemic. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our families and our City’s Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families, BGCSF allowed kids to be kids and to feel safe at a time when they needed it the most.
Today, COVID-19 appears to be entering an endemic phase. What does that mean for San Francisco youth and families and what we can expect moving forward? At BGCSF, we are certainly eager to see kids return to a more normal school and Club experience … to get beyond the pandemic ... to return fully to a sense of normalcy. But, in order to do so, we must also accept the impact this pandemic has had on children and teens, and commit to working alongside families to ensure that kids emerge strong. We must also acknowledge and understand that the marginalized communities that we are so fortunate to serve have been, and will continue to be, disproportionately affected for many years to come.
Youth have been heroic throughout the past two years. They have worn masks, stayed distant, and complied with rules that make it almost impossible to truly enjoy the freedoms of being a kid. They have also suffered stress and isolation. Needless to say, the toll of this disruption has been immense. As we settle into what is becoming the "new normal," our youth, families, and the communities will need youth serving organizations to be even stronger and more effective than ever. At BGCSF, we have been planning for this for the past year and we are ready.
Our commitment starts with making substantial new investments in our academic programming as well as our approach to socio-emotional wellness. In order for our kids to emerge from the pandemic strong, resilient, and optimistic, our Clubs are laser focused on:
In our experience, we have noticed that there is a high degree of connectivity between a young person's socio-emotional health and their ability to excel academically. So, in addition to hiring additional Behavioral Health Specialists, we created a new Education Liaison position at each Clubhouse. Our Education Liaisons track individual members’ academic progress and maintain contact with school administrators, teachers, and parents/caregivers. They work collaboratively with our Behavioral Health Specialists and other Club staff to ensure all the adults in the child’s life are keenly aware of the young person’s current deficits, and that they do not allow our members to fall victim to failure as a result. Providing this comprehensive support network for our kids, strengthens our alignment with schools, which ultimately creates a more meaningful Club-to-school connection.
The events of the past two years have made it abundantly clear that solving big problems requires partnerships. No one organization can do it alone. Although the most important relationships we build are with Club members, ages 6 to 18, we also recognize that it is just as imperative that we continue to build even deeper and more durable relationships with other nonprofits, our families, our neighborhoods, and our schools. These relationships inform our work in the out of school time arena, as well as help us break down barriers or obstacles that our youth and families might be experiencing.
A great example of this is our current collaboration with UCSF. We both have a vested interest in eradicating COVID-19 through vaccination. We are pleased to be working with UCSF on a series of pop-up vaccination clinics hosted at our Clubhouses across the City where our youth, families, and members of the community can receive first and second vaccinations as well as booster shots.
This opportunity for BGCSF to be directly involved in supporting vaccinations in our community is especially meaningful. Our organization enthusiastically advocates for the COVID-19 vaccinations; for everyone who is eligible and who is able. We support the data identifying it as one of the most important ways that our community can get beyond this pandemic and return to a true sense of normalcy.
In addition to establishing viable partnerships, it is our team of dedicated staff who made the real impact. Not only did they put themselves in harm's way, they did so with as much joy and enthusiasm as one could possibly hope for in the middle of a global pandemic. To us, our staff were -- and are -- the heroes in this story. Looking back, there is so much for which we are proud. But, the quality of people who we work alongside is first on our list.
It is this combination of dedication, programmatic expertise, thoughtful planning, and trusted partnerships that makes Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco an integral part of the solution for young people moving forward. From two World Wars, a Great Depression, two devastating earthquakes and now a second global pandemic, the Club has been a force for good in kids’ lives. We have once again proved our resilience and our determination in the face of incredible challenges and we are stronger for it. We look forward to using this renewed strength to support our youth, and work towards building a brighter future together.