America’s youth are in crisis. One in five young people live in poverty. Three out of 10 teens won’t graduate on time. One out of three kids are obese or overweight. Only 22 percent of U.S. eighth-graders are proficient in civics, showing a comprehension gap in our rights and responsibilities as citizens.
These are national statistics that tell a story of a generation that may not be better off than its parents, something that is almost unheard of in the history of our nation. Locally, some of these indicators are more dire.
The success of families and of our schools is of utmost importance to stem this tide. An overlooked yet essential component to transforming kids’ lives and America’s future is out-of-school time — the afternoon hours between when the school bell rings and when parents arrive home from work. By providing access to positive and productive after school and summer programs, as well as caring adult mentors, we can reverse the most negative trends facing our youth and our country, including graduation rates, obesity and violence. The Boys & Girls Club is strategically positioned to partner with the community, parents and schools to serve young people during these key transition times.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties is implementing a strategic plan that will serve more youth in even more meaningful ways. Several areas of this plan will see significant progress during the next few years:
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Let’s be honest, serving teens is hard. Adolescent years are complex and, at the very time when parents need the most support, our society tends to offer fewer options to this at-risk group. Serving teens also is expensive. At the Boys & Girls Club, we provide interesting and relevant programs paired with positive and caring adults who serve as a listening ear and a calming voice. College visits, career exploration and service-learning opportunities continue to be a focus, but only a fun and engaging environment will keep bringing teens through our doors.
The primary mandate of the Boys & Girls Clubs is service to youth. How can we expect to create change in the lives of young people if we don’t also create change in the lives of their families? Every family can use additional support, and all parents want what is best for their children. Parenting does not have to be an isolating task. By working with community partners and stretching beyond our walls, we use family nights to create connections between all generations. We will add parenting classes to provide additional tools and knowledge. Our staff members refer children and families to community support services and work to ensure that the connection is seamless and the family unit is strengthened.
Too many neighborhoods in our community do not have the additional support brought by a Boys & Girls Club. Our youth and alumni describe the clubs as a second family. This concept of a second family is needed throughout our region. We are making progress on a dream of opening a Boys & Girls Club near downtown Kennewick. We are working with civic partners and service providers on this capital project, and will engage the community as we move forward.
We greatly appreciate the ongoing support and investment from our community. We continue to empower all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens. Consider joining us to serve more teens, engage more families and establish new programs to serve the youth in our community most in need of a hand up.
Information: www.kidexpert.org or call 509-543-9980.