An Editorial by Steve Kast, President & CEO
President Obama's last State of the Union Address featured key themes tightly linked to youth initiatives that have long been underway at Boys & Girls Clubs. Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula has been one of the longest running and leading youth development organizations in our community celebrating 70 years of service to youth this year. Most recently, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula was asked to take over management of Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Virginia. As combined organizations we serve 9000 young people annually at 24 Clubs throughout the Southside and Peninsula in every type of community- cities, towns, public housing, Schools, as well as impacting our military- it is our responsibility and our privilege to impact the future of our community's greatest resource: our youth.
As the nation tuned into the State of the Union Address, we were honored to see two Boys & Girls Club representatives from other communities attend this important event. Blake Lynch, a Club alum and current staff member at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, and Club member and high school senior Guadalupe 'Lupita' Romero, who was invited in recognition of being a great leader at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson in Arizona. At Boys & Girls Clubs, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity for a great future. Blake and Lupita are two examples of great futures made possible with the help of our Clubs. The youth in our Clubs locally are making a difference in heir community while preparing themselves for a great future.
Our vision is for every child to graduate from high school, ready for college, military or a career. We know that 97 percent of Boys & Girls Club teens expect to graduate from high school. Nationally 21% of African American males are not graduating from high school. We are proud to report of African American males who attend our Boys & Girls Clubs three or more times per week, 98% are graduating from High School. It's our responsibility to help keep them on track to realize this goal and enable them to be prepared for what's next. Today, this means ensuring every young person has the 21st Century skills required to be successful after high school graduation. We believe a critical first step on the journey toward future greatness for young people, especially those most in need, starts by opening the door of the Boys & Girls Club.
Boys & Girls Clubs are committed to inspiring all young people to become the innovators and problem-solvers of tomorrow. One clear way that out-of-school time providers like Boys & Girls Clubs can make a difference is through expanding learning in the areas of science, computer and math skills, with programs designed to ensure all youth - both male and female, and those in rural and urban communities - become STEM-ready graduates. Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula is taking steps to expand our STEM programs and activities to help youth develop a passion and aptitude for STEM. Too many kids mistake a lack of foundational knowledge for a lack of talent or ability.
We have a strong vision for youth in our community, but our youth face many obstacles in their lives, particularly gang and youth violence. A tremendous amount of our resources are spent on basic needs, including safety and security to keep our young people from harm in challenging neighborhoods and food, such as through our new Eat SMART program. Over the last year, we have unfortunately lost teen members who became victims of gang and youth violence in Hampton Roads.
Our communities are blessed with strong leaders in government, nonprofit, and faith based organizations that work diligently in the community. Mayor Price in Newport News and Mayor Wallace in Hampton care deeply about their communities and have led regional approaches to reducing gang and youth violence. Government cannot do it alone. It is devastating to know in the first two weeks of 2016 that we have experienced double figure homicides combined on the Southside and Peninsula. The ability to take back our neighborhoods lies within the citizens of our communities working in cooperation with law enforcement, nonprofits, government, and faith based organizations. I firmly believe if we all do something, no matter how big or small a gesture, we will take back our neighborhoods and go about the business of growing our future by cultivating the potential of our young people.
I ask leaders from all sectors and the public to join in this work, and open the door for a child in your community. Providing the necessary 21st Century skills starts with taking back our neighborhoods.
Boys & Girls Clubs