Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) has been a leader in preparing young people for bright futures for more than 150 years. As one of America’s largest teen-serving organizations, BGCA believes few issues are more important to the future of our nation than those confronting children and teens living in underserved communities today.
[Above: A University of Washington Tacoma student and a member of BGCA of Puget Sound interact as part of the Great Futures Fund program, a partnership between the two institutions designed to increase college access opportunities for local BGCA members.]
More than 15 million children live in poverty, and one in five youth will not graduate high school on time. Significant achievement gaps persist between white and African American, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaska Native students. This is where BGCA is uniquely positioned to make a significant difference. Clubs serve an ethnically diverse population of boys and girls, ages 6 to 18, with a concentrated focus on using after-school time to improve academic success and create pathways to higher education.
Since 2013, BGCA’s emphasis on higher education has continued to evolve, with a deepening commitment to recruiting more youth — particularly teens — more often, as well as producing more graduates with strong pathways from high school to college to career. The aim is to level the playing field for club members — many of whom will be first-generation college students — and strategically partner with institutions of higher education and corporate and philanthropic sectors. BGCA aims to redefine the opportunity equation and change the trajectory for future generations.
BGCA recently established the Higher Education Partnerships (HEP) Team, dedicated to alleviating financial as well as access barriers by ensuring club members are on track to graduate from high school and meet college admissions criteria. To achieve this, the HEP Team is focusing on five major priorities: (1) securing $100 million in scholarship commitments; (2) providing on-campus summer experiences and other pre-college opportunities; (3) establishing near-peer mentors and service-learning initiatives at higher education institutions; (4) equipping club members with the tools to navigate through the social, academic, financial, and administrative challenges of the postsecondary process; and (5) convening a National Higher Education Access and Scholarship Task Force of thought leaders across various sectors to assist in supporting members in their postsecondary pursuits. Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, is a member of the task force.
Among the first to respond to BGCA’s call to action was the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which offers two full-tuition scholarships to BGCA members who are admitted to the university and its First Wave Program. The First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community is a cutting-edge multicultural artistic program that offers competitive undergraduate scholarship recipients the opportunity to live, study and create together in a close-knit, dynamic campus community. In recent months, Oregon University, Amherst College, and Universal Technical Institute, Inc., have also agreed to support BGCA members by providing millions of dollars in tuition slots and on-campus summer experiences.
By 2020, BGCA endeavors to create a national network of 1,000 dynamic, innovative, and meaningful partnerships across higher education and corporate and philanthropic sectors. These partnerships will be essential to creating strong pathways from high school to college to career for deserving youth. Prospective higher education institutions include two- and four-year colleges and universities, as well as trade and technical schools. Opportunities to partner with BGCA vary by institution for students who meet admissions criteria. Most partnerships include wrap-around services and academic and social supports to assist with the transition from high school to college.
To further enhance BGCA’s postsecondary readiness efforts, the recently launched BGCA Alumni & Friends Club will engage its estimated 16 million club alumni in giving back to clubs and teens through near-peer mentoring, advocacy, and college and career support. The Alumni & Friends Club represents a global network of former club members, celebrity ambassadors, youth advocates, and corporate and media partners all working together to build great futures for the next generation. To learn more, visit BGCalum.org.●
Damon A. Williams, PhD, is the senior vice president of program, training, and youth development services with Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. Mikkal Hart Murunga is the director of higher education partnerships with BGCA.