In preparing for the conference, I revisited some of the significant interactions I’ve had over the years with our teenage members. One which took place early in 2012 was with Itzel Rodriguez, the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier, California’s 2012 Youth of the Year.
With plans to be in California, it struck me that I’d like to find out how Itzel is doing in life. Through regular interaction with Samantha Ridout, the Whittier Club’s chief professional officer, I knew Itzel was enrolled at UCLA. With that in mind, Samantha was generous enough to set up lunch before the Keystone Conference for the two of us and Itzel. What a *delightful time* we had together!
Itzel was very forthcoming with Samantha and I. She talked about her transition to college, a few of the challenges she’s encountered, and how she balances school with a part-time job and frequent visits home to her family. Despite the busy schedule, Itzel has emerged triumphant in her academic success.
She’s evolved into an amazing young woman, full of passion, positive energy and enthusiasm. Her attitude is infectious and her gentle smile would warm any heart. Our conversation reminded me of the fragile period of time when our kids go off to college, many of them first-generation college students without the tradition or role models so desperately needed to pave that path. Kids like Itzel.
When challenges arose, Itzel could easily have withdrawn, dropped out or gone in another direction. What’s clear is that Samantha Ridout and others have taken an active interest in Itzel’s life, college career, and ensuring her success. That’s what Boys & Girls Clubs and their incredible staff members do across the nation, at 4,100 hundred Clubs, every day. They help the kids who need us most. It is all about creating Great Futures and a better America. Thanks to Samantha Ridout and all of our professionals for the difference they make.
Speaking of great futures, the Keystone Conference in Anaheim was an extremely special event. Thanks to the host Clubs, Pat Halberstadt at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove and our teen steering committee for all of their efforts in making this year’s conference a success.
I was able to join the group for my President’s Council Dinner with 15 teens who provided direct feedback on issues they and most teens face every day. Joining me were Damon Williams, Linda Wiltse and Dvon Holland from BGCA. We heard directly about technology and its influence on teens, some of today’s popular apps and websites, as well as some of the perils that have emerged in today’s social media world. We also talked about how to bring more teens into our Clubs to enjoy the same experience they do.
At the general session, I welcomed our 2013-14 Pacific Youth of the Year, Yossymar Rojas. We thanked generous long-time supporter, Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, and Executive Director Amy Kavanagh, who announced a new commitment to support teen strategies. These include high school graduation celebrations, preparing teens for post-secondary education, and the Be Ready program. We also honored Linda Wiltse for the support she has provided over the years to our teen initiatives.
My words of encouragement to the group included staying focused on opportunities and taking advantage of each one that is presented, as well as paying attention to details and a challenge to bring two, three, four of your friends to “the Club” and have them join as a member. We also unveiled a new “The Club” logo, which got rousing applause from all of our teens.
Teens in America can often be forgotten but not at Boys & Girls Clubs. One of the key priorities of our Great Futures Strategic Plan is to serve more teens, more often, and help them be career- and college-ready.
Next week is another landmark time of year as our Movement joins together for our 108th National Conference in San Francisco. I look forward to seeing our volunteers, professionals, community partners, stakeholders and others there and hope you all have a chance to say hi.