Resilience Reimagined: Boys & Girls Clubs of Tarrant County
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County leads with innovation and creativity
After school programs are an integral part of a child’s development. Not only do they provide educational resources but also offer a safe space for kids to play, learn and grow. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County are a second home for many young students in Texas. As the largest chapter of clubs in the state, it has served more than 23,000 students a year and can count 11 branches and 15 school-based sites in their county. The clubs' goals are to help each child reach their full potential through life-changing programs that promote academic success, healthy lifestyles and positive citizenship. The Greater Tarrant County clubs also offer after-school assistance that ranges from elementary to pre-college programs.
Each branch is a vibrant place for youth to connect with others in a meaningful way. But when COVID-19 swept through the country, Daphne Barlow Stigliano, Chief Executive Officer and President, had to reimagine new ways to operate. Stay-at-home orders left many kids stranded from their communities, but Stigliano had some ideas up her sleeve. The clubs' tight-knit connection with their local neighborhoods proved to be a key advantage when shifting operations. For Stigliano and her team, any obstacle could be solved with some creativity and innovative thinking. “Our organization is connected in a very unique way to the communities we serve. It gave me an opportunity as a person and as a leader to make a difference and innovate,” says Stigliano.
The global pandemic was a period of survival for many of the kids and their families. Food was of utmost priority, and so Stigliano and her team quickly thought of ways to distribute meals. For 90 years, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County have been fostering a strong relationship with local schools, so they utilized this connection to feed families. Instead of filling up school buses with kids, they filled them up with food and drove them to different areas of the county for those in need. On a recent Zoom call, Stigliano shares that only 12% of the people they fed were existing members of the club, highlighting the gravity of need.
They also used their sites as curbside meal centers. Food providers and corporations pulled together to provide groceries and hot meals for families. Hundreds of cars lined up, including existing members. “It was really uplifting to see the kids through our drive-through lines. Those were the moments where I really have felt the human spirit of kindness and hope through this crisis,” shares Stigliano.
As their meal distribution efforts ramped up, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County also shifted towards virtual learning programs. Each club adjusted its after school program with online music lessons, licensed professional counseling and more. “There are lots of ways to be creative and connect with kids. We sent them instruments and hosted live jam sessions online so kids could stay connected,” says Stigliano. On top of virtual learning and play, their pre-college programs — Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound — kicked into high gear. All of their advisors became certified in SAT and ACT prep to keep their students on track to graduate and go to college.
Their efforts did not stop there. In the midst of civil unrest and a global pandemic, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County also made a commitment to amplify and center youth voices regarding racial justice issues. Their inaugural Agenda for America’s Youth Program was launched with key issues in mind: racial equity and justice, economic and education resourcing, youth and family rights and youth safety. “We talked to the staff, board, and our kids and really wanted to put an emphasis that centers on youth voice. We asked them what their hopes for the future were, and how we could help them get there,” shares Shon Dorsey, Vice President of the Greater Tarrant County, a former Club Kid and "Youth of the Year" winner – a prestigious honor given to a young person who exemplifies leadership, service, academic excellence, and dedication to live a healthy lifestyle.
As the 2020 election approached, the Agenda for America's Youth Program prioritized voter education and registration. Stigliano and her staff rallied together and became voter registrars for their county. Kids and members of the clubs handed out voter registration cards at food drives, educating people in line about the importance of voting. Torion Lewis, Don Kromer Branch’s 2020 Youth of the Year, was at the frontlines to pass out food and encourage beneficiaries to vote. As a recent graduate of the program, she is excited to apply the clubs' teachings beyond the club sites.
“You take what you learn here and put it in different places. I’ve grown so much. When I first came to the Club, I was shy and timid. Now, I’m a social butterfly,” says Lewis. After 12 years at the Club and completing 500 hours of community service, Lewis is ready to start college at the University of Texas Arlington. “The Boys & Girls Clubs taught me humility and resilience. Now, I look at obstacles and think of ways to go above or around it…not letting those stop you.”
As The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County look toward the future, Dorsey is excited about what’s next. He plans to “expand innovation and technology" into their programming to make sure every child is equipped to reach their full potential. Creativity continues to push The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Tarrant County to new heights, and Capital One is proud to support their mission.