HERE’S WHAT ENHANCING BGC’s YOUTH SUPPORT LOOKS LIKE:
- Targeting our 500 youth members, driving towards positive outcomes in relationships, healthy living behaviours, academic success, leadership, including through volunteering, community service
- 1:1 outreach to connect, and re-engage youth with “their” staff leader/mentor, for targeted support around school, mental health and wellness, guidance on issues, and action planning
- Opportunities to engage and socialize with other youth (first through virtual means, and as restrictions ease, in person while following social distancing until safe to do otherwise)
- Access to a mentor/tutor, focus on academic catch up, and supports to learn about potential career interests through the summer months, and through ’20/’21 school year
For more than 80 years, BGC has been giving children and youth a place to belong during the critical out-of-school hours, where with the help and guidance of highly trained staff and volunteers, they discover who they are, that they matter, what they are capable of, and that they have promising futures. Serving more than 10,000 individuals each year, BGC specifically offers nearly 500 youth social recreation, academic, and mental health programs through our Clubs.
Social distancing and social isolation are what we all have to do right now. But for youth, it holds significant risk for their development and their futures. Research shows that, compared to adults, youth are more vulnerable to the emotional impact of traumatic events that disrupt their daily lives. It is also true that 75% of mental health issues first begin to emerge during adolescence, when youth aren’t yet able to distinguish or differentiate what is an emerging mental health issue versus situational stress or anxiety. Adolescence is a critical period in the development of a youth’s identity, self-confidence, and relationship skills, ultimately influencing their future success.
During COVID-19, the required restrictions have meant that youth have been separated from peers and mentors, and from their learning environments. Meanwhile, the online world (including social media channels) serves as both their library, and playground. We are already concerned about the frequency and amount that youth turn to the online world for distraction, escape, and to seek connections, but in this time of social distancing and restrictions, that increases the chance that youth become further isolated and at risk.
All of this, combined with research that consistently shows that vulnerable youth fall further behind academically during times when they are out of school, calls on us to act now to help BGC to enhance their academic and mental health supports for youth right now. Click here to make a donation that will support youth right now.
Want to see what Club impact looks like in a youth’s life?
Findings from our outcome measurement work
During qualitative interviews, children and youth consistently identified that the staff is their favourite part of the Club. The data reveal that the adult staff in our clubs have a tremendous impact on the lives of kids. They act as role models and mentors. Through these relationships, kids come to believe that they matter and are important. A common theme in the interviews was that these relationships helped guide decision making, learning, and personal growth in children and youth.
Interviewees shared that staff are a source of inspiration and encouragement. One 14-year-old said, “One time, I felt really sad. I came to the Club and talked to the staff, and I felt safe. I knew that I had other people in my life who cared about me.” Our quantitative data reveal that 87.5 % of youth identify more people in their lives that care about them since coming to Club.
Club Members come to trust the staff at the Club and seek their support in times of need. In addition, the evaluation shows that with the support of positive adults at the Club, kids have a more positive relationship with their families, and more specifically, their parents/guardians.
The data from interviews and surveys reveal that the Club enables its Members to expand their friendship circles. The Club exposes children and youth to a diverse population and brings together people of all ages and from all backgrounds in an environment that lets everyone be who they are. This exposure gives children an opportunity to learn about those who are different than themselves. It helps them expand their understanding, empathy, and compassion for people. The data also reveal that children are learning appropriate interpersonal skills at the Club, and so they are better able to get along with others. For example, one 16-year-old said, “I make less enemies; I make better friends.”
At the Club, children and youth are able to practice putting themselves out there to others and making friends with those they normally wouldn’t have socialized with. The data tells us that kids have the opportunity to learn from their peers and value the experience of meeting new people. Members develop specific skills that help them interact with each other in a more positive way – listening to others, getting along better with others, and working through conflicts. One 13-year-old said, “My friend group has changed since I’ve been at the Club, and so has the way I see people. I’m open to people now, and it’s really cool.”
Our interviews also revealed that kids feel accepted for who they are while at the Club. Children and youth do not feel judged and are able to be themselves in ways that they are not able to outside of the Club. They have identified the Club as a safe space, where they have learned empathy and compassion for others.
In an online world driven by social media and the internet, we are giving kids the chance to interact with others and practice their interpersonal skills. Kids are feeling more connected with each other and are increasing the strength and diversity of their social networks. Our Club members are less lonely and are able to build positive relationships with peers.
The data reveal that through experiences at the Club, Members are taking more control and ownership over their lives and are becoming active participants in the here and now. They understand that they have decision-making capabilities and responsibilities in their lives presently, and this sense of agency and self-authoring sets them up for the future. Even at a young age, kids are identifying what it is they are getting from the Club, and what they need from the Club to pursue the kind of life they want.
Members are making decisions about their current lives and bringing their own decision-making power to the forefront. These decisions might be about what food they are eating or what program they will participate in. But they are also about what kind of friends they want to hang around with and what behaviours they want to exhibit. Our quantitative data reveal 81% of teens are making better choices for themselves now, due to their participation at the Club .
Due to the healthy decision-making skills that our Club Members are learning at the Club, they have increased confidence in themselves and a growing belief that they are capable individuals. They also believe that they have purpose and the ability to contribute something meaningful to others. As a result, they view themselves as valuable members of their family, Club, and greater community.
In our interviews, many children and youth spoke about things they had learned at the Club that were new and that they had not been previously exposed to. They also spoke about the role of the Club experience in guiding them to try new activities. Some expressed the significant role that watching older kids had on their interest in exploring and learning new skills for themselves. They attribute this progress to the modeling of others, peer and staff efforts to include them in activities, having a large variety of choices, and feeling safe. This improved their willingness to step out of their comfort zone and pursue new and positive experiences.
Gaining the interest and courage for pushing oneself into new skills was a significant benefit of the Club experience. One said, “Being around so many different children of differing ages allows me to learn by watching. You just don’t get that by just being stuck with your own age. I get to learn this way.” Another said, I am now interested in baseball, I used to think it was silly, but now it’s my favourite thing to do. I talk a lot about baseball and encourage others to try it, especially those who were scared like me.
The people at the Club and the environment provided by the Club have a significant impact on the willingness of children and youth to step out and try new activities. From our survey data, 89% of respondents 8-12-years old and 83% of those 13 and older report that they try new things more because of the Club.
In our interviews, most children and youth identified that when they were exposed to new experiences and challenges through the Club that were appropriate to their developmental stage, their confidence increased. The data reveal that when staff created and implemented new programs and opportunities for Club Members, and encouraged them to try these, it inspired them to embrace new learning. In almost every interview, interviewees talked about the encouragement they received from staff to stretch themselves and grow. One of the key insights from the data is that when confidence was initiated through achieving success in new experiences, it increased the likelihood that children and youth would engage more frequently in learning experiences, building on and amplifying their confidence. Once they experienced a growth in confidence, they reported that they would extend themselves to try new things on their own. One said, “I am less shy now and more talkative, and I have way more friends.” Another 12-year-old said, “I get to do everything I want at the Club, and I feel more confident to do things outside the Club.”
It is not just providing opportunities to experience new activities that encourage our Club Members to explore; it is also the environment in which it is done. Mixing ages and experience levels of children and youth provides opportunities for mentorship and peer learning. While we often concentrate on ages and stages as a guide to our programming, it is important not to overlook the benefits of mixed-age programming and its potential for positive impacts.
In addition, as we have previously recognized in Finding #1, the staff at our Club hold unique positions in the lives of our Club Members as they are not a parent or guardian, nor are they an educator in the school system. They are another positive adult role model that the Club Members learn to trust. Research indicates that when a child can identify more adults who care about them, they are more likely to thrive. Our findings definitely support this research, and almost all of our Club Members identified Club staff who care about them.
The data reveal that the Club experience helped Members have a vision and expectation for positive possibilities for themselves in the future. As we discovered from an earlier finding, most interviewees talked about the new things that they tried and how that changed them. An additional implication of this insight is increased confidence about the future. For example, one youth interviewee said that he used to be “awkward,” but through the Club, he had the opportunity to visit a different province, learn the skills of public speaking, and spend time volunteering. For him, this created the opportunity to identify future goals and desires, such as doing more to help others, engaging with others more to develop new friendships, and wanting to help younger kids more.
A common theme from all the interviews was a desire to do more and grow. Some respondents reported developing career goals, such as having an engineering career as a result of being exposed to science experiments in the Club. From the survey data, 83% of youth said that they feel more confident about their future because of the Club .
The interviews show a common theme about the development of courage and capacity to move productively through challenges. Some talked about trying new things and not being successful but keeping with it until they saw progress. Others talked about speaking up for themselves and not making choices that were not right or harmful to them. In each interview, there was evidence of a strengthening and developing ability to continue on when things got tough.
In the quantitative data, 94% of teens reported they could bounce back better when things are hard for them because of Club. While children and youth might not call it resiliency, it’s the best word to describe the perseverance described by the Club Members.