This year marks the 20th anniversary of Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Native American communities working together to serve youth. Today, more than 200 Clubs are on Native American lands. Recent visits to two of them revealed the progress that’s being made.
Ramon Elias (right), CPO, and Jason Jones (left), Unit Director, were excellent hosts during my Arizona trip. Their relationship with the Gila River tribe has been such a tremendous help to this organization and to the community!
Ramon Elias is chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley in Tempe, Ariz. We drove to the Gila River Indian Community together, site of East Valley’s Komatke unit. About 20 years ago, Ramon used a $75,000 grant to buy an old, vacant school here to serve as the Club. He asked Intel to be a partner. The tech company agreed and sponsored a $250,000 facility renovation. Komatke opened in 1995 as Arizona’s first Boys & Girls Club on Native American land. It was so well received, the community requested a second. This led to the founding of its sister unit, Sacaton.
The Gila River Tribe’s ongoing support has been tremendous. Last year, they contributed $850,000 of the $1.1 million budget for the two units. In 2009, they single-handedly funded the new $6.5 million Clubhouse.
Despite making an impact, challenges remain. This includes a high school dropout rate of 80 percent. The community is working hard to change this. For every teen who earns a high school diploma, for instance, the tribe will cover *all costs* to attend any college for four years. Tuition, room, board, books – the whole nine yards. As a result, the number of young people enrolled in college grew from 30 in 1995 to more than 1,000 in 2011.
Throughout my travels, the kids have been great. Here, in Washington, I relaxed with a game of pool. It's a great way to meet Club members and learn about the Club.
While in the “Valley of the Sun,” I met with CPO Steve Davidson and Board Chairman Rick Baker of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale. We discussed their plans for outcomes and growth, including opening a Club on Hopi tribal lands in 2012.
Interacting with Youth of the Year members is always special for me. So attending the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix’s annual “Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Stars” event and meeting the 12 candidates was awesome. Chloe Johnson was named the organization’s Youth of the Year. She will now vie to be Arizona Youth of the Year. Chloe is a wonderful example of how kids can be transformed as members of the Club.
Time spent with Metro Phoenix staff was also insightful. CPO Amy Gibbons leads a great team that includes Vonn Magnin. As Director of Impact, Vonn’s role is to ensure programs and Clubs are aligned to achieve the priority outcomes of academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and citizenship.
Washington State’s Tulalip Boys & Girls Club is also one of the first Clubs on Native American land. It opened in 1997 as part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, where Bill Tsoukalas is executive director. We visited the Tulalip community and its Club together.
We were welcomed by Mel Sheldon, board chair of the Tulalip Tribe and a Snohomish board volunteer. Mel praised the Tulalip Club for promoting the values of education, good decision-making, and drug and alcohol abstinence to youth. Director Chuck Thacker is the retired principal of the local elementary school. He’s been with the Club since it opened and director for four years now. It’s unusual for a non-tribal member to run a Club, but that’s the kind of trust the community has in Chuck.
I enjoyed meeting the younger Club members as much as the older teen Youth of the Year winners. Here, I am having a serious conversation with two of the youngest at the Tulalip Club. Now if I could find a similar pair of sunglasses, I'd be set.
Also in Tulalip was Mike Tulee, BGCA’s Native American Outreach Coordinator. He’s working with Washington state’s 29 federally recognized tribes to open at least two more Clubs in Native American communities by 2013. They’d be modeled on the Tulalip Club, currently the only Native American Club in the state.
The most intriguing part of the Tulalip visit had to be the “Immersion Center.” This 1,700-square-foot addition is being built for “Immersion Presents,” a program created by oceanographer Robert Ballard to inspire careers in science, math and the environment. Kids will be able to interact live with oceanic research crews worldwide via satellite and internet. What a great way to get kids interested in science and math.
The programs at Komatke, Metro Phoenix and Tulalip are life-changing. A future that includes more Boys & Girls Clubs in Native American communities would be a truly great future for young people.