By Christa Fletcher, contributor at The Underground Group
⏰ 6-minute read
In the U.S., millions of kids lack proper supervision after school while their parents finish work. The Boys and Girls Club chapter in Lawrence, Kansas is especially influential in closing this gap.
Thanks to strategic partnerships with local schools and college-age volunteers, the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence serves more kids than most other chapters.
Other businesses can grow from its example by relationship-building in their own ecosystems.
As many parents can attest, the schedules of the traditional school day and workday simply do not line up. And while 75% of mothers with school-age children work, less than half of public schools offer care during the critical in-between hours of 3-7 p.m., The Atlantic reports. Consequently, 15 million kids in the U.S. lack adequate care and supervision after school each day. This leads to decreased productivity among working parents and serious issues for young adults and their communities.
The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, Kansas has quietly tackled what some call an afterschool care crisis in its local area.
Over the past 50 years, the organization -- whose mission is to enable young people to reach their potential as caring and productive citizens -- has grown from serving a handful of male students in 1974 to 1,500 members daily in 2019.
Here’s how the team at the Boys and Girls Club (BGC) of Lawrence grew an exceptionally successful chapter of the national BGC organization.
Partnering with elementary schools
Today, two-thirds of Lawrence’s elementary students receive quality childcare after school thanks to BGC of Lawrence.
The chapter grew its reach by establishing partnerships with all 14 public elementary schools in the Lawrence area, said Megan Hill, major gifts officer. BGC programs run onsite at the schools, where volunteers set up enriching activities and provide homework help.
The setup is a win for multiple parties: Parents don’t have to worry about transporting their kids to a separate BGC facility, and it bodes well for young kids who are just getting used to the school environment. BGC gets access to the schools’ safe facilities, and schools don’t have to worry about funding and staffing afterschool care.
With 14 elementary-school meeting locations, or “Clubs,” BGC of Lawrence has some credits to its name.
“We have the largest number of Clubs per capita [of any BGC chapter] in the U.S., and we are serving more students than other metropolitan areas,” Hill said. “... We are able to serve such a huge number of kids and teens in Lawrence at a high-quality level because of our partnership with the schools and teachers.”
Catering to teens
The BGC of Lawrence recently expanded its reach to middle- and high-school students with a new teen center. The Don and Beverly Gardner Center for Great Futures opened in August 2018, named after local philanthropists Don “Red Dog” Gardner and his wife Beverly.
To fund the Center, BGC of Lawrence raised $4.25 million through a capital campaign which included events and solicitations from individual donors. The state-of-the-art facility currently services 120 kids daily, and leadership hopes to double that within two years, said Hill.
Whereas onsite programs at schools are an ideal way for elementary-school students to access the BGC, teens wanted something different.
“When we built the teen center, we interviewed teens in the community to find out what they would be looking for in an afterschool program,” Hill said. “They did not want it to look like a school. We had to build ‘cool’ spaces where they could learn but it didn’t feel like it.”
The Center hosts separate programs for its middle- and high-school members, who can choose from a wide variety of activities held in the gym, maker space, culinary arts kitchen and performing arts studio. They can get homework help during daily “Power Hours” or learn about healthy living through cooking lessons, basketball and yoga. The performing arts area includes a recording studio, stage and gaming suite. There’s also a “member lounge” where older teens can hang out in a private space.
The gaming suite and kitchen are most popular parts of the Center, Hill said. The latter provides dinner for many kids who may not have healthy meals waiting for them at home, she added.
“Everyone collectively loves our culinary kitchen,” said Communications Director Alissa Bauer. “During school hours, the high schools can host advanced culinary classes, and after school, the kids can take other classes with us. We have community partners like the local food bank Just Food, who sends volunteers to teach kids how to eat healthy on a budget.”
BGC of Lawrence has 30 full-time employees and 200 part-time employees and volunteers. It’s notable that the organization’s young members have similarly-aged role models to lead them through afterschool activities.
“We hire a lot of young college students, many with a background in social work,” said James Lawrence, finance director. “We also have safety training and behavior management training. Our partners come in and provide best-care practices, and we work closely with [partner schools] so we have background on behaviors and challenges for individual kids.”
The BGC of Lawrence has a partnership with Kansas University, whose students mentor and volunteer in its programs. School of Music students teach the elementary-schoolers about musical instruments, and engineering student groups lead activities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“Having a university here for our staffing needs is really helpful,” said Lawrence. “We have a partnership with the School of Education for future educators; we have an internship with the School of Social Work and credit for AmeriCorps, a service program with a living stipend. We also hire part-time employees with an hourly rate of $10.50 to start.”
In turn, the University is growing its pool of prospective students by helping teens who may not otherwise graduate or develop an interest in college.
The ripple effect
Of course, the University isn’t the only entity to benefit from BGC of Lawrence’s work.
The biggest benefactors are arguably the members themselves. Research suggests that afterschool programs decrease dropout rates and improve the overall wellbeing of young adults, while Department of Justice data shows the hours of 3-6 p.m. are peak time for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex. Reliable places to engage in academic, athletic and social activities have been shown to change outcomes dramatically.
Additionally, the Harvard Family Research Project found that afterschool care improves teens’ academic performance and dietary habits while reducing drug use and incidents of obesity. Students who attend afterschool programs are more likely to gain the skills they need to become healthy adults and graduate from high school.
Plus, parents can focus on their work while kids are in care, which benefits the local economy.
“Parents concerned about their children’s after school care miss an average of eight days of work per year, and this decreased worker productivity costs businesses up to $300 billion annually,” cites Youth.gov, a government resource for leaders of youth programs.
In short, organizations like the BGC can help create and maintain financially productive communities.
“A new study commissioned by Boys and Girls Clubs of America finds that every dollar invested in Boys and Girls Clubs returns $9.60 in current and future earnings and cost-savings to American communities,” Hill said.
The BCG of Lawrence is aiming to serve as an example to the rest of the country, she continued. Her organization has a unique opportunity to impact the local workforce and prove that it’s worthwhile for communities nationwide to adopt similar programs.
“At a national level, all of our clubs are part of a national movement to be at the forefront of saving kids lives and empowering working families,” said Hill. “At our local club, we are clearly able to support the national movement. We have created such a unique model that we hope we can be influential in making it work in other communities.”
The bottom line
If other BGC chapters want to replicate BGC of Lawrence’s growth, it’s important to cultivate community partnerships with their local school districts and youth organizations, said Hill.
The principle is one that all companies can adhere to: Ultimately, it’s relationships -- both business and personal -- that drive feel-good success for your company. Focus on the folks you’re serving (also known as your customers), and your organization will win.
“It’s really important to expand the definition of who needs us most,” Bauer said. “[BGC of Lawrence serves] not just a financial need; it’s an emotional need.”
“There are some kids coming home to an empty house, and it’s not their fault that their parents work multiple jobs,” she continued. “Kids need a more positive influence in their lives, and we are just offering that positivity for all kids.”