As the largest out-of-school youth provider in Santa Cruz County, the Boys and Girls Club usually serves 2,400 kids at three different clubhouses. However, the Club has greatly evolved since the onset of Covid-19. Slowly opening up after the first shelter-in-place, the nonprofit now serves about 160 children of essential workers or high-risk members.
“Overall, we’re doing as best we can, and we’re doing pretty good,” said Maia Yates, the director of program services. “I’m grateful for our community partnerships, working with school districts.”
Members have been split into pods of 12, with the same staff members daily. The Club has also pivoted to serve children throughout the school day and after school, instead of their normal after-school hours.
“We’ve completely redone the [Joe & Linda Aliberti] Clubhouse, and it looks just like a classroom now. Our staff members have a teacher’s desk and students are spaced out in worked areas across the room,” Yates said. “I cannot say enough about how the staff have stepped up and taken new roles. Our staff help members with their virtual learning, through Zoom and other technology. Many say to me, ‘I feel like a teacher,’ and I can only reply, ‘Well, you are.’”
Aside from creating a classroom, staff have focused on the social and emotional health of their members more than ever. Board Directors are constantly surveying parents, staff and youth to gauge comfort levels with Covid-19 protocols.
“These kids are so strong and resilient,” Yates said. “They deserve so much credit for all they have accomplished during these hard times.”
Staff hope to “turn up the fun” over winter break with lots of big projects, outside activities and a virtual countdown at noon on Dec. 31. Yates jokes: “It’s a New Year somewhere!”
The Clubhouse has also added some unexpected extracurricular activities with help from the community, such as fencing and an entrepreneurial course that mimics the ABC show, “Shark Tank.”
“People are being creative with us and that’s what I love,” Yates said. “Amazing community members are bringing new things to our youth in a time of hardship. It’s so fun to see kids running around fencing with pool noodles.”
The Club’s impressive evolution comes with a price.
“It’s as expensive to provide services for 160 kids than 400 kids daily, because of the pod-staff ratio, additional cleaning staff, and PPE …. We’ll make it through this year, but how we come out on the other side is dependent on the community’s support,” said Development Director Andrea Tolaio.
Keeping Spirits Bright, the Club’s annual year-end fundraiser, is crucial this year, Tolaio says. She hopes to raise $200,000 through the campaign and, as of Dec. 7, the Club is only $75,000 short of the goal.
“Without events, it’s been difficult to fundraise, but we’re confident we will reach our goal …. We’re so grateful for a number of new donors and returning donors,” she said.
This fundraiser will create new opportunities for the Club in 2021. Yates said she would love to expand after school programs this spring, and possibly add a potential soccer camp at the Aliberti Clubhouse. But for now, she said, “We’re keeping our numbers the same until we get the green light from the State and County to expand services.”
Staff mostly focus their visions for expansion on the summer of 2021.
“We’re always talking about having the best summer ever to reward these kids,” she said.
To donate, visit boysandgirlsclub.info or call Tolaio at 831-423-3138, extension 23. Checks can also be sent to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Cruz County at 543 Center St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060.