On a recent sunny but cool weekday afternoon, more than 200 children and teens, ages 7 to 18, were busy inside the President Gerald R. Ford Clubhouse at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley in La Quinta.
Just as they do every weekday afternoon during the school year, the kids happily immersed themselves in one of the myriad activities and programs offered here and at the other BGCCV outposts in Indio, Coachella and Mecca. (There are two other separately managed clubs in the valley: the Boys and Girls Club of Cathedral City, and the Boys and Girls Club in Palm Springs.) Sounds of laughter, chatter and serious discussion filled the rooms where kids can do their homework, learn about technology (including robotics), play sports and much more.
“The beauty of the Boys and Girls Club is that we give all of our children a place to belong—a place where they feel like they can be useful, a place where they get some positive influence from good, positive people, and where they can feel like they’re accomplishing great things,” said Siah Nix, a 22-year BGCCV veteran who is the unit director of the Ford Clubhouse.
Earlier in the day, BGCCV CEO Quinton Egson talked to me at his administrative office in Palm Desert. Egson, who has worked with the club for 36 years in various capacities, explained how the different program options at each of the clubs are developed and implemented.
“When we first went out into Mecca in 2012, we were sitting at a table with maybe eight to 10 teenagers, and I asked, ‘By a show of hands, who’s going to go to college?’ Nothing. I guess their aspirations were to finish high school, which is commendable, and then go to work. So we saw a need to make sure that the kids were prepared to go to college. We started a series of programs called Next Step Prep, Goals for Graduation and College Bound. Fast forward, and now we have over 40 kids who have gone to college out of Mecca.
“Academics is really big at all of our clubs. We help kids with their homework and make sure that they are ready to get promoted to the next grade. Grade progression is important, as is the goal that they graduate on time with a plan for the future.”
Nix said the Boys and Girls Clubs have adapted as technology has advanced.
“Now all children have laptops or tablets at their schools,” Nix said. “So we have specific computers that are designed just for them to do their homework if they don’t have their laptop or tablet with them. There are no excuses now for not doing the homework.
“We’ve made it into an incentive program based on how much time they put in here doing their homework. We count every 15-minute interval they spend here, and at the end of the month, we have an incentive party for the top 10 children participating. Children watching from outside the classroom see these children doing something different from the norm and enjoying this party atmosphere, and they inquire as to how they can become a part of that experience. Then we tell them all that’s required is doing your homework, and we get more kids wanting to join in. Initially, they just want to be a part of that party—but we know that having them get their homework done right after school when the learning is still fresh in their heads is important.
“Also, now when the kids go home, they can enjoy quality time with Mom and Dad,” Nix added with a smile.
In recent years, the BGCCV has made a daily meal service a priority as well.
“(During the school year) we’re open from 2 to 7 p.m.,” said Egson, a College of the Desert graduate who was the 2017 recipient of the prestigious national Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Herman Prescott Award, for visionary leadership and exemplary field work. “During the summer, we’re open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to accommodate the working parents. We started feeding our kids dinner every night during the school year, because we saw that the kids were getting their best meal each day at their school’s lunch. Now they can get a second good meal at our place. Also, in the summer, we give the kids both free breakfast and free lunch. When a kid is hungry, he’s not worried about getting an ‘A’ in class. What l try to do with our team is assess our kids constantly in conversations and by keeping our ears to the ground. Then we can meet them where their needs are—and once we can meet them where their needs are, we can help them get to where they should be.”
Such a multifaceted organization delivering services on such a grand scale—more than 6,000 youth members are served by the four BGCCV facilities annually—requires a substantial fundraising effort. Egson explained how his group raises the required $3.5 million each year.
“Just recently, we had a special event called Putting Party With a Purpose. We did the glow-golf thing at Indian Wells Golf Resort and we had about 200 people there,” Egson said. “It was excellent. We raise about one-third of our annual budget with events, and they give us a chance to introduce ourselves and our mission to a lot of people. We do a lot of grants as well; we’re working over 20 grants right now. Also, we do private donations. We get out there, and we shake the trees.
“Every year, in my mind, we start at zero and we have to raise that $3.5 million. We’ve been around since 1966, so through trial and error, we’ve been able to put together some reliable funding sources to help us be a sustainable organization.”
Major fundraising events planned for the near future include the Sports Heroes Luncheon (which may become a dinner event) sometime in January 2019, and the annual gala called the Grand Auction, slated for March 9, 2019.
“It’s going to be at the Hyatt in Indian Wells,” Egson said. “That’s our signature fundraiser, so to speak. Last year, we raised over $1 million. We draw about 600 to 700 people who know what they are there for.”
Any child between the ages of 7 and 18 can become a member by getting registered online or at a BGCCV clubhouse; membership fees vary based on the ability to pay. Adults can volunteer by calling or contacting the BGCCV via the website.
“You have to go through a background screening,” Egson said. “… Next, we hook you up with our volunteer coordinator, who takes you through a little questionnaire to determine what your goals are for volunteering. Finally, we put you in the right spot, and we get you started. A lot of times, we help volunteers share their passions with our youth.”
It’s obvious a lot of great work is being done at the clubs to keep local kids on the right path.
“One of my life’s philosophies is to build kids now, so that we don’t have to fix adults later,” Egson said. “It’s hard to fix adults.”
For more information, call 760-836-1160, or visit www.bgcofcv.org.