Hope is Moving Forward Together image

Supporting the hundreds of kids in the community who depend on Boys & Girls Clubs when schools are closed.

From Obstacles to Optimism: A Story from Behind the Mask

Ask any Boys & Girls Club kid or alumni how they'd describe the Club, and chances are you'll hear it's like a home away from home. But during the past year, Boys & Girls Clubs across King County, Washington, have been more than a second home; they've been a school away from school.

While many people had questions about what would happen with their jobs, sporting events, restaurants and life as we know it when the world shut down a year ago, Meghan Sweet had just one thing on her mind: How to support the hundreds of kids in her community who depend on Boys & Girls Clubs when schools are closed.

"Here in Seattle, schools have been closed for a year. We opened the day after schools shut down and have never closed our doors." 

Meghan attended the Club as a child in Southern California and has worked for Boys & Girls Clubs of King County for 21 years, currently serving as the area director for nine Clubs.

One year ago, her Club kids made and hung a banner on the building that said Hope is Not Cancelled. Little did they know how true that statement would be as 24 of their Clubs transformed from after-school and summer program facilities into full-time childcare centers open 11 hours a day. Today, up to 800 kids from 240 different schools across King County come to her local Clubs daily to participate in online school and find a much-needed sense of normalcy. 

"The biggest concern we have right now is kids' mental health. The level of trauma these kids are experiencing is greater than anything I've seen in two decades with Boys & Girls Clubs. We're serving many kids who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity and difficult family situations. We have 214 kids with known learning or behavioral challenges. Parents are at their wit's end. We're loving the kids through this time and doing everything we can to make their lives as normal as possible."

Clubs are providing such a stable environment for kids that school and the Club have become synonymous, especially among their youngest learners.

"Conor Ike is the Club program director working with our kindergarten students to assist them with their work," Meghan explained. "I was recently helping one of our 6-year-olds connect to his school learning site and needed to know his teacher's name to log in. When I asked, he told me, 'My teacher is Conor.' I explained that Conor worked at the Club and I needed to know his teacher's name from school. He couldn't make the connection that the person at the Club who has been reading to him and helping him with his work every day was not his teacher."

A Look Behind the Mask

While every kid, parent and Club staff member is wearing a mask, the exhaustion and anxiety hiding behind those face coverings are profound. Yet, so are relief and hope because of the Club. For Club parent Christine, gratitude is the emotion behind her mask for having a safe and stable environment to send her 9-year-old son Max. 

"My husband and I both work full time, and Max has a brother with special needs. The Boys & Girls Club allows Max to interact with positive adults who love him and support him emotionally and educationally while we are so busy with work and his brother. I can't tell you how many times the staff has helped him with online school."

But more than anything, Christine is thankful her son has a sense of normalcy that she knows will have a long-term effect. 

"Max has to get up, pack a lunch and go somewhere outside of our house," Christine shared. "He can be around kids his age and problem-solve with them rather than spending all his time watching YouTube or playing video games. Many kids are depressed because they aren't going anywhere and have lost their social interaction. Max is still learning and having fun, and we are grateful for that. I am sure the impact the Boys & Girls Club is having on Max will continue to reveal itself for years to come."

Hope is Moving Forward Together

For members experiencing trauma, on an education plan or with special needs, King County Club staff meet with their parents and teachers to ensure everyone is on the same page about the support that child needs. They have prioritized mental health and have developed community partnerships to increase support for kids and teens.

"People have told us the Club being open has offered a beacon of hope, especially when they see our kids playing outside and having the opportunities that have been lost for so many," said Meghan. “We’ve hung a new banner on the Club that now says, 'Hope is moving forward together.' We don't just take care of our kids; we take care of our community. That's what we'll continue doing together.”

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Help More Kids & Families Through This Challenging Time

While 2020 was a year full of challenges and uncertainty, Boys & Girls Clubs continued to be the place that kids, families and communities could count on. In addition to the services and support Clubs always provide, they quickly adapted to help families reeling from job losses, school and childcare closures, and overwhelming food insecurity. 

Help Clubs keep doing whatever it takes to protect the future of America's kids who continue to suffer from the devastating effects of the pandemic. Donate now.  

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