By Matthew Henry
Clubhouse Director, Greater Visitacion Valley
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
As the Clubhouse Director for the Sunnydale and Visitacion Valley Clubhouses, every day I witness our young people choose the Club as their community and support system. Our highly-diverse, highly-skilled staff helps youth connect with their peers to pursue resources to succeed in school, become college-ready, and prepare for the workforce. With continuous mentorship and a focus on good character in all our programs, we empower youth to make a positive impact on their community.
For Kionna, an 11-year youth member of the Sunnydale Clubhouse and the 2020 Citywide Youth of the Year, the Club has connected her with opportunities and experiences, while giving her a platform to raise her voice and let people know what's going on in her community.
I recently caught up with Kionna, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley studying political science, to learn more about what the Club meant to her. I was truly honored to spend some time with this young leader who understands the gravity of these times and is driven to speak up for meaningful change.
Here’s what Kionna had to say...
What’s your favorite memory of the Sunnydale Clubhouse?
There are too many! I was always at the Club growing up – it was my second home. If I had to pick, I’d say I loved going to the cement slides at Golden Gate Park. I’d fly off into the sand with my friends.
How have the people at the Club impacted your life?
The Club staff has had the most impact on me. They always recognized my potential and guided me toward opportunities that supported my interests. In middle school, I started getting invested in my community and wanted to see a change. The staff connected me with organizations and a leadership program where I could give my input on issues that impacted my neighborhood.
When it came to school, my Club tutor, Shu Ping, made learning really fun – even things like multiplication.
The staff at the Club is so dedicated. My sister now works at the Club, and if she doesn’t understand a student’s homework, she’ll call their teacher and have them explain it. That’s what so many Club members need – someone to advocate for them, connect them with their schools, to help them stay on top of things.
What was the biggest takeaway from your Youth of the Year experience?
I’ve always been afraid to speak in front of large audiences, so I didn’t know if Youth of the Year was for me. But when I began writing my speech, I realized I could use it as a platform to raise awareness around the needs of my community. The Youth of the Year program helped me to start that process of being able to speak up for issues that I’m passionate about in front of people in a persuading way.
Currently, opportunities are not equitably distributed throughout our city. Some of us face barriers in school that have a huge impact on our lives as we get older. Every kid I grew up with deserves the best education, and I want more people to know about the need for change.
Why would you tell younger teens to attend the Club?
The Club is a supportive place with people who can give you resources to do what you want to do—which is especially important for kids in high school and middle school. If you want to get into something you are passionate about, the Club is the best place to start. For me, it was getting involved with community advocacy. It’s a place of opportunity and resources, where kids feel like they belong.
Also, the staff cares about all the youth that come through the doors. The kids at the Club are encouraged to try new things. The staff isn’t going to let you just fail. They’re going to make you try, and they’re going to be there to help you along the way.
At Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, we fully support Kionna and her peer change makers as they continue advocating for more equitable outcomes in San Francisco. And, we will continue to uplift their voices and share their stories of resilience, change, and hope.
Read more about our work in empowering the next generation of youth leaders, or visit our Who We Are page to learn more about our mission.
Matthew Henry has been with BGCSF for four years serving the Greater Visitacion Valley community in organizing and mobilizing community resources. As a former Boys & Girls Club kid from Stockton, CA, Matt has worked in youth development—specifically with system-involved youth—for more than ten years. Matt earned his Bachelor of Science in Criminology from California State University, Fresno and has worked throughout the Bay Area in the non-profit sector since leaving the Central Valley.