Encouraging interest in STEM is one of our top goals at the Fogarty Institute. And that starts with offering opportunities, which is why Fogarty has partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP) to show them the fields of medtech and entrepreneurship firsthand. For example, next summer, we will be offering the chance for BGCP college students to join the Lefteroff internship program.
The Boys & Girls Clubs have played an important role in the lives of countless youth. The organization was formed in 1860 by three women in Hartford, Connecticut, who believed boys who roamed the streets should have a positive alternative. It quickly grew to become a national movement offering hope and opportunity to young people across the country. Today, 4,300 Clubs serve nearly four million youth.
Nearly 100 years later, BGCP was founded to give at-risk young kids a safe place where they could build positive peer and adult relationships. One quarter of the students they serve are homeless or in foster care; only 7% have a parent who attended college; 70% are not reading at grade level and 80% are English language learners. Through strong partnerships with families and schools, 90% of the BGCP’s participants graduate from high school with a post-secondary education plan. And even more importantly, they have confidence that they can become strong contributors to their communities. Membership is free, as the organization is supported by local, state and federal grants, as well as donations from generous benefactors.
This month, we had the privilege of talking with Cynthia Duran, the group’s College Success manager, and Amrita (Rita) Deo, the Career Pathways program manager, about the organization itself and how it helps our local youth succeed and thrive.
Q: Tell us about your organization, programs and who you serve.
People typically think of the Boys & Girls Clubs as helping school-age youth—and we certainly do. But our goal is to serve youth in low-income communities throughout their journey, all the way from kindergarten through college graduation, helping them help explore what it means to be successful after high school. As part of the College Success program, we start really working with kids during their second year of high school to help them think about their future, such as entering a postsecondary program or college, and then making sure that they have the support necessary to finish whatever they start.
For the younger kids, we offer a lot of academic enrichment, but also other activities that help them develop in all aspects of physical and mental wellness. Of course right now that has been more challenging, given the social distancing requirements of COVID.
Because of the pandemic, it’s harder for some kids to access our programs for a few reasons. First, we can’t be on campus, and we find they might not want to sit in front of a computer after being online all day for school. And some may need their parents’ help, but there’s a technology and/or language barrier. So we are figuring out new ways we can reach these kids, to counteract the apathy many of them are feeling.
We are not only doing this with our programs, but we’ve also expanded our outreach to include supplying meals to anyone who needs them – members or non-members. Because of this, we have seen a substantial increase in donations – our supporters are eager to see this program continue as they see the dire need for food in these unprecedented times.
Q: How did you get into this type of work?
When I was in high school, I definitely had my struggles; in fact I had a horrible high school experience – I came from a low-income family, and I lacked support and experienced racial discrimination. I hated school every minute of every day. So of course I didn’t think I was going to go to college, but after working for a year, I decided to go back. I went to a community college and ended up being recruited into a program that is very similar to our own College Access program, which truly changed my life. I ended up at Santa Clara University on a scholarship and decided to go into education because I wanted to be the teacher that I never had. Turns out teaching was not for me; I recognized that I love the work of serving the students, but not in a classroom setting. After three years, I found this opportunity. I’ve been at BGCP for two-and-a-half years, and I love every second of it – there’s nothing more rewarding than providing these young adults with the tools and confidence to reach the next level of their education and eventually their careers.
I grew up in East Palo Alto, which is one of the communities that we now serve. My parents are immigrants from Fiji, so I was also a first-generation college student in a low-income community. I was part of the Boys & Girls program when I was in middle school, and then in high school, I became a teen staffer and continued on to become an after-school instructor when I entered college. I loved helping the community. But I also found that I wasn’t prepared for the rigor of college, so I went back to community college, then finished up at San Jose State and later started this role. It’s been very gratifying to help prepare kids, but also show them that postsecondary success doesn’t necessarily have to mean college — it can be whichever path you want to take in order to lead to a successful future.
Q: BGCP is changing youth’s lives. Tell us about the Youth of the Year program and how it inspires you and the members you serve.
One of our favorite programs is “Youth of the Year,” where students highlight their path to success and share their triumphs. Club members start the program in their junior year where they learn more about leadership and teamwork, and then during their senior year they enter a cohort where they practice presenting. It allows them to apply a lot of what they’ve learned over the years, and while they do eventually present to judges in various rounds, the goal is mostly to get students to share their story in their own terms and highlight their potential.
The Youth of the Year celebration is always an emotional time for me as we see the many obstacles that our members have had to overcome in order to achieve their goals. One aspect that always comes to mind is the daily schedules many of them face, with a lot of challenges many 17 year-olds don’t have. This includes living in poor conditions, lacking running water for example; coming from single family homes and being responsible for the other siblings; taking long bus rides to get to school; getting up early if they want to participate in sports activities and staying up late to do homework after helping around the house.
And of course we feel immense gratification when we see future graduates who got to college because of the help we gave them surrounding the application process and staying focused during high school. It’s hard not to get emotional when we see students from East Palo Alto getting into schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley. Who would have thought that would’ve been possible?
Q: The programs you offer are free to the students. How can organizations best support you?
We receive some federal and state grants, but we also rely on generous donors and do a lot of fundraising. And of course, we are always looking to grow our corporate and internship partners. We’ve worked in the past with YouTube and 23andMe, among others. We are hoping to expand opportunities for students and the fact that Fogarty is on board is very exciting.
Internships are very important for our college kids, and then we also have apprenticeships, which our high school students participate in. Right now, we have programs with the VA Hospital and Google. During the summer, our students get to go there for about two hours every day and learn about different careers that a company or organization has to offer, different pathways to get there and experiences employees have had.
It’s a great opportunity for them to learn about where people started, how they got to where they are and the obstacles they experienced and overcame.
Learn more and get involved with BGCP by visiting their website: www.bgcp.org