Boys & Girls Club steps up to support youth during the pandemic

For more than 30 years, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland has provided a safe place for youth to gather.
That role has become even more crucial during the pandemic. The nonprofit — with three locations — is providing meals, programming, and support to youth who need it most.
Like schools, the youth-focused organization has put several protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Everyone must wear masks. Temperatures are taken when both youth and adults come to the building. The number of people in the building is also limited.
“We had to figure out how many kids could be in the building, changed around their programming — there’s a little less drop-in and a little more structure,” says Craig Spoelhof, who has been the organization’s Executive Director for a decade.

More technology
The club operates a northside location, at 583 Riley St.; a southside location, at 435 Van Raalte Ave., and a third location at Holland Heights Elementary, at 856 E 12th St.
“We've looked at how much space we have,” Spoelhof says. “We have kids in groups of 10, and we’re making sure that they are spread out throughout the buildings.”

Pandemic-related school closures have only exacerbated the digital divide among students who don’t have access to Wi-Fi and computers at home. Fortunately, the club is one of three West Michigan organizations that has received funding from Comcast that is underwriting more technology.
“Several of the school systems we serve expect their students to have internet connectivity to access their homework and project assignments. With the Comcast grant, we’ve been able to purchase up-to-date technology so that the members can efficiently do their work,” Spoelhof says. 

Three $10,000 grants
Comcast awarded $30,000 in grants to three Boys & Girls Clubs in West Michigan to support the organization’s My.Future program that provides members with a safe, fun, digital platform for learning, playing, and socializing while at the club. The tech giant awarded $10,000 grants each to Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland, Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, and Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore.
“We are grateful for Comcast’s committed support of our digital programming. Their gift and the My.Future platform provide our members with the tools needed to improve their digital literacy,” Spoelhof says. “The online My.Future modules have given more than 100 youth the ability to safely learn, play, and socialize while exploring STEM topics.”
My.Future is Comcast’s signature program with the Boys & Girls Clubs. This Comcast-created program focuses on digital equity and learning models for youth so they can learn about technology and STEM careers, and earn badges and club recognition for completed activities. It is a space where kids can interact with each other — free from the prospect of cyberbullying — and share their accomplishments locally and nationally. 

Online achievement

It provides a way for the youth members to experience BGCA’s digital programming, make friends, and build a positive self-image through online achievement.

COVID-19 changed the school day for students and parents. With so many schedules shifting, between schools, parents, and extracurricular activities, the Boys & Girls Clubs’ commitment to economically disadvantaged students becomes even more imperative.

“Closing the opportunity gap for students who aspire to thrive in today’s tech-driven world is why we invest with amazing partners like Boys & Girls Clubs,” says Jeff Snyder, Government and Regulatory Affairs Manager for the Plymouth-based Comcast in Michigan. “Through this partnership, we’re addressing digital literacy needs — whether that’s improving internet access, offering STEM activities, or helping youth sharpen their digital and social-emotional skills by participating in online extensions of in-club programming.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.