Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake offer a haven for youthJul 03, 2023 09:54AM ● By Ella Joy Olsen
Mental health-related emergency room visits increased by 31% for teens during the pandemic, according to the CDC. Reasons for the uptick may include the pressures of social media, pandemic related isolation, financial insecurity and family worries.
But the one thing that helps, regardless of the stressor, is having a place to belong, someplace safe where young people can connect in-person with friends and their community, all while having fun and working to become their best selves.
There are seven Boys & Girls Clubs in Utah providing this safe haven, serving kids in the diverse and growing communities of Glendale, Murray, Midvale, Price, Rose Park, Sugar House and Tooele.
Anyone up to age 18 can participate at the Clubs, but the focus is on serving low to moderate income families, and according to Anne Marie Bitter, director of advancement at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake, “Eighty-two percent of the youth come from this population, and roughly half of the participants are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.”
Summer learning is key
Kids need a safe place to hang out…when school is out. Clubs are open in the afternoons during the school year, but the doors swing wide all day long during the summer, providing parents peace of mind while they go to work.
Amidst summer fun, which includes hiking, horseback riding, biking, rock climbing and visits to museums, the Clubs provide academic support via tutoring, goal-setting and money management, with an umbrella goal of addressing summer learning loss. They also provide food security by serving nutritious meals during the summer.
Funding and volunteers come from the community
Funding for the Boys & Girls Clubs is comprised of a mix of public and private sources, the majority coming from individual donors, local community groups and corporations.
This past May, the annual fundraising gala was held at the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel. Over 400 people attended, including 70 youth from all seven locations. The event raised over $387,000, which will provide academic support, meal programs, leadership lessons and more throughout the year.
The local clubs employee over 100 staff, including teachers licensed in the state of Utah and on-site licensed therapists. Additionally, over 500 local volunteers aid in the effort, and there are many opportunities to get involved.
Reaching the youth
The impact of the services provided to local kids is hard to deny. In 2022, the Utah Boys & Girls locations served nearly 5,600 at-risk youth through a variety of healthy lifestyle programs including academics, nutrition, physical fitness and drug prevention. They also served nearly 250,000 meals, nutritious snacks and take-home food bags.
The clubs are located in corridors of accessibility, meaning where the services are necessary and the location is easy to reach. Additionally, many clubs provide transportation from school. “We try to give any kid who needs it a chance to succeed and a sense of belonging,” Bitter said. “Plus we are so excited for our newest building.”
The Club in Tooele has long been located in a shared space, but recently an old fitness facility has been purchased for sole use by the Boys & Girls Club. “This is a fantastic building for a club, as it has lots of open space plus many individual classrooms.” The location is being remodeled and should be ready just after Labor Day 2023.
They’ve been helping for a long time
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake has been helping Utah youth since 1967, and is affiliated with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The national Boys & Girls organization was founded in 1860 in Hartford, Connecticut by four women who believed that the local boys roaming the streets unsupervised should have a positive alternative, somewhere structured enough to encourage them to become productive citizens, but enjoyable enough they’d want to participate.
In 1956, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America received a Congressional Charter, and not long after that, the Clubs of Greater Salt Lake opened their doors, aiming to be the “village” for Utah youth, providing life-changing experiences and opportunities for those who need it most.
This long history of service allows the Clubs to utilize time-proven, evidence-based accredited curriculum, which has proved successful in reaching youth over many decades. And they do this all while providing a haven where kids love to go.
To find a club or get involved link to: www.gslclubs.org. λ