Meeting the Challenge

Our organization has adopted a slogan this year called, “Meet the Challenge.” It is appropriate for so many reasons given the difficulties we and all nonprofits face in attempting to keep up with the demand for our programs and services in an era of a growing “working poor” class.

I am in my 19th year at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor – the challenges have been constant during this time and have become even more severe given the economic realities of the past four years and the difficulties, limitations and sometimes the outright danger a growing number of local families and especially their children must face. I grew up in San Pedro at a much better time – there are MANY more challenges today for our children to address and overcome.

I recently read two articles that reinforced this imperative to “meet the challenge.” In a recent op-ed piece titled “When School’s Out,” two researchers talked about the huge concern of working parents while they are on the job and their kids are out of school. Interestingly enough, Fortune 100 companies employed all the parents interviewed, so they had many resources at their disposal and yet were still anxious and sometimes desperate as to where their children could thrive during those most important hours of 3-6 p.m. Juxtapose that reality with another article stating that Los Angeles has the highest poverty rate among all California counties – a staggering 27%. If parents of Fortune 100 companies are extremely anxious due to uncertainty about where their kids are and what they are doing after school, just think what our growing number of working poor parents of San Pedro and our Harbor Area must feel who have many less options but all of the same concerns and needs.

This is one reason why our “Meet the Challenge” slogan is so very appropriate at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor. Because without the commitment of our Board, staff and our donors, we could not continue to make available the most up-to-date facilities nor sponsor the most comprehensive child development programming possible for over 8,000 youth annually, a number that is growing as our College Bound and Arts Academy programs attract continually more at-risk youth and provide a pathway to their development and success. One illustration: our high school and middle school attendance has increased by a combined 70% over the last two years alone. Now that is a challenge.

But “Meet the Challenge” is also most appropriate for the children we serve. Although we attract all types of youth, our members are more often than not part of our 27% poverty rate. They are often hungry, condemned to poor living conditions, are without basic medical, dental and vision care (another article stated that one in seven Los Angeles school children do not have the glasses he or she needs), may be living without a parent or are in foster care. These children are part of the vastly growing segment of highly at-risk youth. Still, day in and day out I witness our kids who “meet the challenge” and truly overcome such great odds due to their indelible spirit and the efforts of so many caring adults and supporters. These children could easily give up, but with the Club providing a safe place to go and a plethora of programs and activities that allow them to develop and succeed – they do “meet the challenge” and will soon be leading our community and possibly our greater Los Angeles area as productive, caring and involved adults.

These children do not need a handout; they just need a helping hand. If not us, who? If not now, when? spt

We (Must) Take Care of Our Own

Driving in to work today, Springsteen was singing “We Take Care of Our Own.” As I have been mired in the angst and deliberation of finalizing next year’s budget, his words gave me an opportunity to pause, smile and reflect on the great impact of our daily commitment to youth. College Bound graduates our seniors (96%) and sends them to college – more than 1,000 during the past four years; our Arts Academy expanded our Monday-Friday arts programming and is now providing advanced instruction and performance opportunities during Saturday mega-sessions; our growing sports leagues provide great competition, but more importantly, an opportunity to have fun and develop an active lifestyle that will hopefully last for decades.

Facilitating the Club’s budget is analyzing and choosing – considering all of the opportunities and then prioritizing and developing a plan that will allocate primarily for the most important and impactful programming while designating lesser amounts or sometimes zero for other options. Nothing different than what you do with your business and/or home budget – we can’t have it all so we try and make the best choices possible to have the greatest positive impact within our limits. And even though our organization’s budget is $5 million – we still have to make choices as we now operate 17 sites and serve over 12,000 youth annually while sadly thousands more must watch from the sidelines.

I am writing on this issue because as a nation we have the same budget limitations with one added twist – besides taking care of our own we have long accepted the responsibility of being the world’s security leader as well as its greatest foreign aid provider. The reality is that all of our domestic needs must compete with budget considerations such as Iraq ($2 trillion over the past 10 years), Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, world hunger, global disasters, drought, terrorist camps and third-world infrastructure needs just to name a few.

As a nation, we are once again subjected to our annual budget debate – a debate that includes a national debt that could strangle our children and grandchildren in the decades to come. Other facts and factors not necessarily a major part of the discussion is that we have the highest percentage of children living in poverty since the Great Depression. Our senior citizens are living longer while we are considering cutting back Social Security and Medicare. The number of Americans living on the streets or in their cars is shameful and debilitating. Public education is reeling from rhetoric rather than having the funding needed to once again include the arts, vocational training and support for our adult immigrants. And violence in this country continues to prematurely end lives while shattering many more. Add the growing need for Americans displaced by hurricanes and tornados, the lack of proper support for our veterans when they return home from foreign wars, a nation whose infrastructure needs FDR and the WPA, and the reality that tens of millions of Americans have little or no medical or dental care – then you have to admit that the needs of our citizens have been taking a back seat to other “priorities.”

Budgeting is not a perfect science but requires tough decisions that must decrease some needs while eliminating others completely. Also, we as a nation cannot be isolationists both on a moral level as well as the necessity to protect our borders from afar. Regardless, budgeting for the 21st century must further prioritize the needs of the children and families of this great nation over everything else. We can’t make The Boss a liar – we must do a better job of taking care of our own. spt

Partners In Smiles, Hope & Opportunity

Last year was a year to celebrate for many reasons.

We served 1,404 members in our College Bound program last year and 96% of our seniors graduated on time with 93% of them going on to college last fall. We saw our Comprehensive Arts Program continue to grow, so we developed our Saturday Arts Academy to take kids off the waiting lists and provide intermediate to advanced learning opportunities in fine arts, music, dance, recording arts and animation. We completed a much needed $1.1 million renovation of our San Pedro Club facility which included building out separate centers for our elementary, middle school and high school members – a strategy that is revolutionary in our movement and allowed us to triple our daily middle school attendance. Last but not least, we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of serving the most at-risk children of our Los Angeles Harbor communities.

Seventy-five years of serving all youth, but especially those who need us most, is something to note, but the real story is this organization’s ability to continue to adapt to meet the growing needs of our children and families.

It started in 1937, with local businessmen establishing the San Pedro Boys Club to keep the community’s boys from terrorizing the customers of local merchants. In the ’50s, the Club was moved to the few remaining facilities from the 1932 earthquake condemned San Pedro High School. In 1965 (I was a member), the brand new and beautiful San Pedro Club was built by Nick Trani and his merry band of board members. In the mid-’80s the Club fell upon hard times and sadly had to lease away the ball field so many of us boys grew up on over the decades – but the doors stayed open.

In 1999, as gangs continued to proliferate in the Harbor Area, we built our first of eventually three Teen Centers, which later was recognized as a National Teen Center of Excellence by Boys & Girls Clubs of America. In 2001, we partnered with the Port of Los Angeles to establish the Port Boys & Girls Club to meet the growing needs of the 600 Public Housing units in Rancho San Pedro.

In 2002, we developed and instituted College Bound to address the greater than 50% dropout rate of our members. In 2004, we heard the call for help from our Wilmington neighbors and merged with their organization to become the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor. By 2008, we completed $3.5 million in renovations and expansion at the Wilmington Club site so we could replicate our successful San Pedro program model. By 2012, we had become the largest Boys & Girls Club organization in the entire Los Angeles County area – while serving over 8,000 youth annually. Also in 2012, one of our alumni, Misty Copeland, was inducted into the National Boys & Girls Club Hall of Fame for her accomplishments with the American Ballet Theatre. Misty participated in her first ballet lessons here at our San Pedro Club many years earlier.

For 75 years, we have often saved and positively changed tens of thousands of lives because of the generous support of locals: individuals, businesses, service organizations, foundations and even government entities. Words cannot adequately express my sincere thanks for the generosity of each and every one of you – for without you there would be no College Bound, no Arts Academy, no Teen Center of Excellence, no state-of-the-art recording studio, no Wilmington or Port Club, no 8,000 members, no smiles, no hope. Without you, there would be no reason for celebration.

Thanking you in advance for the next 75 years of smiles, hope and changing & saving lives. spt

Calling ALL Alumni (& Friends)

This year, a group of local non-profit executives began meeting once a month after work to spend some social time together to commiserate on the difficulties our organizations have faced.

Executives from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor, Gang Alternatives Program, Harbor Interfaith Shelter, Toberman Settlement House, YMCA, Harbor Community Clinic and Rainbow Shelter get together to wind down and relax with a group of peers who understand the same pressures and struggles. Don’t get me wrong, we all love our jobs and I feel that I am one of the luckiest people on earth to be able to lead the Boys & Girls Club, my refuge as a child. But the reality is that we have been facing some very stressful times these past three years as funding has been difficult to secure while the number of youth, homeless, abused, without healthcare, hungry, neglected, obese and despondent who come through our doors increases, oftentimes needing so much more than we can hope to fully supply.

I am not writing this article to whine about the struggles and challenges these executives and I face each day. Rather, I strive to reinforce once again the great work each of these organizations facilitate and the thousands of lives we often change and even save. To put it bluntly, we need your support now more than ever.

The reality is that you can have the greatest programs, staff, volunteers and facilities known to man – but if you do not have the consistent and increasing funding support needed to meet the growing demand of so many more children, adults and families in need, then so many lives that could have been saved will be tragically lost.

Our community’s non-profits are often the lifelines needed by so many individuals and families that are struggling just to hang on for another day. Each of us has a Board of Directors who gives personally of their bounty and time to support the great work being done. However, a non-profit cannot be supported solely by a Board when there are so many to be served.

For our Boys & Girls Clubs, our daily attendance alone grew from 2,150 per day last year to over 2,500 per day the first five months of 2012. Since most of the organizations I listed do not charge a fee for service, we must raise millions of dollars annually to meet the needs of the children, adults and families we serve. That’s millions of dollars we must raise each and every year.

As our 75th Anniversary year comes to a close, the largest untapped opportunity for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor are our thousands of alumni who, like me, had their lives changed for the better because of the Club. This is a call for your help.

We need you – our alumni – to give back (and substantially) now more than ever. As I mentioned at the Club’s recent induction to the San Pedro Sportswalk – we are the “finished products” of the Boys & Girls Club. We are now law enforcers, restaurateurs, postal employees, company executives, teachers, longshoremen, elected officials, lawyers, union leaders, prima ballerinas, electricians, crane operators, CPA’s, Port employees, retired professionals, small business owners and doctors to name just a few. We are calling all alumni as we need your support now more than ever if we are going to sustain our great impact by continuing to change and sometimes save so many lives.

For the non-profits of our community, it really does take a village to continue to do our great work day in and day out. I want to thank all of the individuals and companies that support my organization and all the other worthy non-profits of our community – your generosity is truly appreciated and important. For the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor, the last 75 years have been great. Let’s make sure the next 75 years are even better. spt