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New grant helps Boys and Girls Club support great futures

Mark Parker



Local club members participate in a workforce development program. Photo provided.

A new, multi-year grant from United Way Suncoast (UWS) is helping the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast (BGCS) transform how it serves over 21,000 kids throughout Pinellas County.

UWS selected BGCS as a strategic community partner, helping the organization’s continued transition into a new era. To aid in those efforts, UWS recently awarded the club a three-year, $592,000 grant to support early learning and workforce development programs.

While BGCS continues to provide a safe and fun place for kids to congregate outside of school, the club is taking an innovative and analytical approach to ensure its members are on track to graduate high school and have the skills necessary to land a good job. Freddy Williams, CEO and president of BGCS, said the two nonprofits enjoyed a collaborative relationship for decades, and post-Covid, UWS is tweaking how it looks at community investments.

“They started doing more, large grants – like the one we’ve had – and then multi-year grants,” said Williams. “But they really want to focus on school success, early education and financial mobility.”

Workforce development

Williams said that teenagers having plans after high school is one of the best graduation predictors. So, BGCS is working with corporations in high-demand industries to provide kids with career learning opportunities while they are still students.

One company Williams said the club works closely with is Bank of America, which allows kids to work in its branches, learn customer service and help business owners identify beneficial financial products.

“These kids are making 23 bucks an hour – in high school,” said Williams. “And Bank of America is guaranteeing them a job after they graduate high school, and then they’re paying for them to go to college.”

Club members working at TD Synnex earn $15 an hour, and the company also guarantees them a college scholarship and a job after high school.

Another integral partner for the workforce development program is TD Synnex. Williams said kids work for the IT company after school every day, closely monitored by a career coach. He called the mentor, who helps guide students on the job, a bridge between the corporate structure and the Boys and Girls Club.

Williams explained that if a kid’s productivity is down relative to their classmates, the coach will point out instances of “goofing off” and offer tips to improve. Club members working at TD Synnex earn $15 an hour, and the company also guarantees them a college scholarship and a job after high school.

“We had three seniors that graduated, and all three of them were offered full-time employment,” said Williams. “And with the credentials that they earn … their first year out of high school, they’re earning anywhere between 45 and 60 thousand dollars. First year out of high school.”

The United Way funding, said Williams, pays for the career coaches, provides job placement opportunities and ensures kids have access to real-life experiences. He added that the three-year commitment also helps the organization plant roots and plan for longer-term outcomes.

Previously, explained Williams, the club focused on just highlighting a program’s impact the following year. He said that BGCS can now show other students what former members are doing three years into their new careers or college.

Williams noted the impact the workforce development program could have on a kid’s life by relaying a story about a teenager working with TD Synnex. He said the student was a senior in high school living in a single-parent household, and just a couple of weeks before his graduation, his mother died from a drug overdose.

Williams said it would be easy for someone in that situation to spiral out of control. Instead, the kid became “laser-focused” and maintained his household because of a steady job that led to a career.

“And he credits that having hope for the future through the job at TD Synnex as what carried him through a very difficult time,” said Williams. “Knowing that it wasn’t the end for him – he could make a name for himself and grow in a career.”

Early learning

The BGCS early education program, said Williams, ensures kids are reading at their appropriate level by third grade. He explained that the organization chose third grade because acquiring necessary literary skills by that age is another significant predictor of graduating.

BGCS provides certified reading coaches and reading intervention teachers from Pinellas County Schools for its members, who are already familiar with the kids and the latest teaching methodologies. Williams said the specialists translate a school’s curriculum into the club’s atmosphere, so the younger kids have fun while learning.

Williams said the specialists translate a school’s curriculum into the club’s atmosphere, so the younger kids have fun while learning.

“We have this concept called ‘Chilling with Books,’ where they just develop this love for reading,” said Williams. “But it’s really part of this broader program where they’re playing games, and it’s tied to literacy.

“And then on the back end, we have data analysts that compute all the kids’ data and their gains on a daily basis, then we can course-correct each week to make sure we keep them motivated, they’re happy and they could see their progress.”

Williams said a key goal for BGCS is preventing the summer slide, which describes the loss of learning that occurs when kids take two or three months away from school. According to the latest data from the summer of 2021, he said 90% of members increased their literary scores because of the initiative – without realizing they were participating in a literacy program.

As a former member, Williams recalled that when he was growing up, the club’s slogan was “the place that beats the streets.” The national organization then transitioned to “the positive place for kids.” The slogan is now “great futures start here,” and Williams said the club focuses on ensuring children are reading at grade level, remain on track to graduate, live positive lifestyles and become good citizens.

“The bottom line is, it’s amazing what we’re able to do when kids know how to read,” said Williams. “They get a high school diploma and have a career, and a career with big companies that they can travel the entire world and go wherever they want to.

“And really, that’s how you disrupt generational poverty.”

For more information on the Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast, visit the website here.





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