Guest column: Counting our blessings at the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe
December 11, 2012
This is the time of year when many of us turn our attention to all we have to be grateful for in our lives. At the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Tahoe our blessings are many. Our excellent staff and team of caring adults work hard to provide a safe, supportive and inspiring atmosphere for children ages 5-18 to come after school. Our enrollment numbers are up considerably as the need for our services continues to grow. This year we are serving 260 members each day at our two sites. This represents a 22 percent increase from a year ago. For our teens, members attending middle school and high school, that figure is about a 26 percent increase from last year.The programs we offer have been expanded in order to meet the changing needs of local children and families. Using a menu of programs from Boys & Girls Club of America and other resources, our club offers tested, proven and nationally recognized programs in five core program areas: Character and Leadership Development, Education and Career Development, Health and Life Skills, The Arts, and Sports, Fitness and Recreation. Each day, staff and volunteers provide our members the opportunity to engage in enriching programs we call “fun with a purpose.” Throughout the year there are more than 50 programs being offered at the club.Many of the families we serve are low income, with 82 percent of the children in the Boys and Girls Club qualifying for free and reduced lunch (that figure is closer to 62 percent overall in our local schools). Many of our parents are forced to work long hours and multiple jobs in order to support their families, which makes the need for our services increasingly acute.With so many parents working longer, it is not surprising that the hours when children are most vulnerable to dangerous influences like drugs, alcohol, gang activity, sexual activity and theft, are the hours between school ending and parents coming home from work. Having a Boys & Girls Club in our community provides our children with a safe, structured environment where they can thrive and it helps to insulate our community from the downside of having large numbers of vulnerable, unsupervised children with nothing to do.Our ability to serve the growing needs in our community is changing as funding for our services declines. When I came on board as the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club eight years ago, the club was closed for the winter break, presidents’ break, spring break, and the first and last weeks of the summer break. With approval from our board of directors, we have been able to be open for all-day programs during those six weeks for all-day. Due to declining financial resources, our board recently decided that our club would focus on providing the needed resources for the after-school programs and the upcoming 2013 summer programs. For the first time in those eight years we will not be open for the winter break this year.Typically, funding for the Boys & Girls Club comes from a variety of sources including grants (federal, state and private foundations); donations (from corporations, businesses, service organizations and individuals); fees for membership and all-day programs; and fundraising events. We receive no regular funding from the national organization of the Boys & Girls and Girls Club of America, instead we are provided with the elements of a model research program on how to successfully support the educational, social and emotional needs of our kids, which we are successfully putting to use. As the new year approaches, our board of directors, staff, volunteers and families are seeking new sources of funding to continue to serve our local children’s needs. We invite the community to join us in supporting our kids. We have several ways you can engage and make a difference including: making a donation, volunteering, donating supplies and telling others.As a resident of South Lake Tahoe since 1972, I am grateful to be a part of this community and am confident in our ability to collectively care for our most vulnerable kids. If you have even a little time, money or talent to offer our local children, I encourage you to consider the impact you can have on our youth. The return on your investment will be the knowledge that the lives of our local children are a little bit better because of you. And for that we can all count our blessings.— Karen Houser is the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club at Lake Tahoe. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.