Daily Press, Published March 17, 2019

At Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula, we see every day the inequities and roadblocks facing our country’s young people.

It’s with that in mind that we commit to providing every child, no matter their background, the opportunity for a better future.

We want to ensure success is within reach for every young person who enters our doors.

Simply, we want to help every child reach their full potential. But, we can’t do it alone.

On March 5 and 6, Board of Director members George Clark and Robert Coleman, chief development officer Michele Benson, and I, along with hundreds of other club leaders from across the nation, stormed the steps of Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. as part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Days of Advocacy.

We focused on sharing with members of Congress the issues that matter most to our kids, and why afterschool programs like those offered by clubs are critical in ensuring great futures for America’s youth.

Boys & Girls Clubs are essential places in kids’ lives where they can develop skills, make lasting connections with mentors, and achieve great futures. It’s vital that our elected officials know what we are doing for our community.

Every day, 11.3 million youth leave school with nowhere to go; in the summertime, that number rises to 43 million. These kids miss out on valuable learning opportunities as well as a safe place to go after school.

With youth spending more time out of school than in, access to afterschool programs can make a considerable difference in their lives at the present and in the future.

Decades of research shows that afterschool programs help kids learn, grow and avoid risky behaviors. Over 10 million children attend afterschool programs once the school day ends.

Access to quality and impactful afterschool programs is an economic, moral and national imperative for our country.

Whether through tutoring and homework help, access to technology, college and career readiness programs or skills development, Clubs have an outstanding track record of helping young people make academic strides.

The success of our programs can be seen by the achievements of our youth, as we guide them along the road to high school graduation, with a solid plan for the future.

Right now, 1 in 6 kids do not graduate on time. Locally, 95 percent of our club members are on grade level, 98 percent say they expect to complete high school, 87 percent expect to go to college, and 76 percent report getting As and Bs in school, more than 10 percent higher than their peers nationally.

We also know that investment in after-school opportunities creates an impact in local communities, especially for working families that rely on Boys & Girls Clubs as a means to be employed full-time.

Every $1 invested in a Boys & Girls Club returns $9.60 in current and future earnings and cost-savings to their communities.

Our kids’ success isn’t just on Congress or our state legislature, it’s on all of us to move the needle for youth in America, creating real opportunity based on kids’ potential — not on the circumstances that surround them.

Our young people are the promise of tomorrow, our future leaders and innovators of our economy.

Prioritizing and investing in afterschool time not only leads to better outcomes for our kids, but also to a healthier, safer and more prosperous nation.

Smith is the chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula.