The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Illinois, headquartered in Carbondale, is the latest recipient of WSIU Public Broadcasting's "Neighborly" Award.
"I'm so excited, not just for me, but for our staff, to know people recognize the great work they're doing for families and our community," said Tina Carpenter, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs. "Our youth development professionals, site directors and program coordinators have worked tremendously hard since COVID changed everything. They are the backbone of the organization. Our programs are only as good as our staff, and they are amazing. I'm honored to be a part of this team and for them to be part of our team. Our board of directors has been extremely supportive through the pandemic as well. They are pivoting as much as we are, not having our usual in-person meetings, but a lot of Zoom meetings. They are behind us 100 percent, and our Board is strong, which makes us a strong organization."
There are three pillars BGCSI emphasizes to build its youth development programs: academic and career preparedness, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles. Its mission is to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us the most, to realize their full potential as caring, productive and responsible citizens. COVID hasn't stopped any of that.
"When we were informed back in March 2020 that everything was shutting down, we went to work right away with our administrative and leadership teams to figure out how we could keep serving families," Carpenter said.
"We worked with the schools to make sure we could become a distribution site for breakfast and lunch and started contacting local restaurants to see how we could get suppers. By working with local restaurant partners, school districts, generous donors and foundation grants, the club was able to serve the community over 22,000 meals free of charge between March and August. We served not just our club members and Carbondale but the community at large -- Marion, Herrin, DeSoto and southern Illinois."
After the governor extended the mandated stay-at-home order and canceled school for the rest of the academic school year, BGCSI continued to stay true to its mission by making the health and safety of the youth its top priority.
The club generally serves about 1,500 members a year. Since COVID, its average daily attendance has gone from 355 kids a day to about 150 kids a day virtually and about 85 in-person.
Although its doors were closed until late June to in-person programming, the staff made over 2,800 check-in calls to monitor the health and safety of its members.
"We're having to creatively use our space on Springer Street to be able to serve all the kids who are doing remote learning," Carpenter said. "Between March and June, we also provided virtual programming, utilizing Facebook Live, YouTube and Zoom. We made sure we checked in with our kids, providing story time and science experiments. When they came to pick up their meals, we gave them books as well as activity kits so they could do these things at home.
"Since last spring, social workers are making calls at least once a week to all of our kids who can't come to the club. Currently, we're still serving youth, especially from Rebound Alternative High School, virtually and working with the staff to support them remotely.
"We worked closely with the health department. Our board has a safety committee that is mandated by Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) as part of our board structure. We worked between April and June to prepare a very hearty, strong safety plan, so we could reopen for the summer. We have a 37-page document, waivers for parents and staff to sign and a clear understanding of what our safety protocols would be to keep everybody safe."
As an organization, BGCSI strives to meet its mission in every aspect of its youth development programs. It has a very diversified revenue stream.
Its programs are supported through donations from individuals, businesses, corporations, foundations and grants. Learn more at bgcsi.org.
Inspired by the life and legacy of Fred Rogers and in honor of his vision, WSIU's "One Region, All Neighbors" initiative encourages community members to nominate those who are making positive contributions through acts of kindness, compassion and service. Winners are chosen from nominations submitted by the public in five categories: individual, youth, educator, community group and business.
WSIU recognizes these winners on its television and radio stations, website and social media.
WSIU encourages the public to participate in the campaign by nominating neighbors online at wsiu.org/neighbor.