Youth need community while living apart: Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada

This blog post is the first of our #680millionreasons blog series. The series highlights stories of the vital role nonprofits play for community members.

Nonprofits are collaborating and innovating to provide stability, a sense of community while people are living apart, and access to supports while families face some of the greatest economic, health, and social challenges in a century. 

As Canada’s largest agency serving children and youth, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada works to provide safe and supportive places where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, and develop skills for life. 

During a global pandemic, their Clubs are needed more than ever. For many children and youth, the Club is the safest place they have access to. Savannah Lapensee, a youth who was positively impacted by her local Club in Cornwall, ON, remembers “the children who benefitted the most from the after school program … their excitement as well as [her own] when they walked through the doors ready for programming.” She is reminded of the teens who found a place to belong at a Club with others, and who found a new family to be with at their home away from home. It’s easy to forget how much of an essential service Clubs offer. Many children and teens can’t wait to go to the Club to see familiar faces and thrive in ways they may not be able to during this time. And, even though she is not a member anymore, “she can’t wait either.”

Across Canada, youth like Savannah are sharing their stories to highlight the importance of Boys & Girls Clubs in all times, but especially during a pandemic.

Shealah Hart, a youth participant from Botwood, Newfoundland & Labrador, finds that one of the greatest benefits of the Boys and Girls Club in her neighbourhood is that it provides the opportunity to open doors for children and youth. “At the Club, every child is a child of privilege. Each member is treated equally and has the same access to wonderful opportunities to learn, grow, and develop.” 

”But COVID-19 has left both parents and post-secondary students without employment, children and youth without school, teachers, and classmates and of course, without their Club staff, programming, and Club friends. In particular, high school seniors are missing a special milestone—graduation. Children and youth are missing their routines. They are missing their “normal.” They are missing opportunities to flourish. Some may even be missing having full bellies or a safe place to be themselves.” 

Staff at her local Club are working diligently and creatively to ensure that these people do not go without. As Shealah says, “For the Club, when there is a will, there is a way.” Club staff continue to adapt, engage members, and provide services both through mail and online. In addition to programming and services for members, staff are also dedicated to distributing food hampers and hot meals to shut-ins and seniors. It is clear for Shealah and her community that the Boys and Girls Club provides much-needed security, community, and opportunity to develop skills for the future.

Like the Club in Botwood, Boys & Girls Clubs across Canada continue to find new ways to support youth and Ontarians during the pandemic, including everything from providing sanitary care packages to virtual cooking programs to phone video counselling. To continue supporting youth and communities when they need it most, Boys and Girls Clubs across Canada need a stabilization fund.

Laurette Jack-Ogbonna, the Children’s Program Coordinator for the Eastview (Toronto) Boys and Girls Club, shares how a stabilization fund for the sector would enable the Club to continue providing impactful programs. “It would enable us to re-hire staff members that have been laid off. This rehiring would mean developing more quality virtual programming, with friendly and familiar staff mentors. The local children miss and require this interaction,” says Laurette. “Most importantly, it would allow [the Club] to plan ahead with greater certainty. Given the current climate, a number of our regular and new funding sources will no longer be able to grant [the Club] full funding. These sources, foundations and corporations, are experiencing dramatic decreases in their own income.” This, in addition to the nonprofit sector’s challenge to run traditional fundraising events and the cost of implementing new protocols to ensure safety, have substantial financial implications.  

A stabilization fund is necessary to overcome challenges, recover from COVID-19, and maintain vital programming for youth and communities across Ontario. 

The Ontario Nonprofit Network would like to thank Savannah Lapensee, Shealah Hart, Laurette Jack-Ogbonna, and Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada for contributing their impactful stories and advocating for a stabilization fund. Share your story on social media using #680millionreasons. 

June 1, 2020 at 2:39 pm
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