In Los Angeles County, Boys & Girls Clubs are addressing youth mental health concerns stemming from the pandemic through programming, on-site licensed counselors and more.
For generations, Boys & Girls Clubs have created safe havens for young people to belong and build skills to be successful in school, career and life. This whole-child approach to health and safety is needed more than ever as parents, schools and youth development providers brace for the mental health fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regardless of background or circumstance, youth nationwide are experiencing the traumatic effects of the pandemic, with growing concerns of anxiety, depression and PTSD. The CDC reports the number of mental health-related ER visits rose 24% for 5 to 11-year-olds and 31% for 12 to 17-year-olds during mid-March to mid-October 2020, compared to this period in 2019.
In Los Angeles County, the Boys & Girls Clubs aren’t just infusing mental health into their current programming – they’re making it a focal point with a new community program, Empowered Voices, which was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal. After the 2018 Woolsey Fire, which destroyed nearly 500 homes in the city of Malibu, the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu received a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to create an intervention to help kids and teens through this trauma. The Club was about to launch the program when COVID-19 hit, and staff quickly adapted the program to address the unique stressors of the pandemic.
The 8-week program helps middle and high schoolers learn how to deal with challenges, build social connections, identify feelings of depression and anxiety and learn how to ask for help. In addition to programming, licensed counselors are on site to support both youth and their families in addressing mental health concerns.
“Our staff has been on the frontline of this pandemic from day one meeting the needs of youth and our community, and this is a natural progression of that,” says Malibu Club Executive Director Kasey Earnest. “Club members are learning how to examine their thought patterns, rewire negative thoughts into positive ones and – most importantly – know when they need to ask for support.”
Since launching in spring 2020, the resilience-building program has expanded to 13 Clubs across Los Angeles County.
For JR Dzubak, Chief Executive Officer at Boys & Girls Clubs of West San Gabriel Valley & Eastside, the program has been a critical component of addressing mental health head-on, in addition to making changes like hiring a “Kindness Director” and installing a blue couch in the game room where Club members can confide in an adult mentor. “Our kids have dealt with so much,” he says. “They’re courageous and are doing the best they possibly can for the little time they’ve been on this earth.”
This fall, the program will be implemented at additional Clubs throughout Los Angeles County, with hopes to further expand in the coming year.
Learn more about how to support young people’s mental health and wellness.