For the first time, after 82 years in Santa Barbara County, Boys & Girls Clubs had to shut their doors. The closures left a void in the community, and some 3,500 kids lost access to sports, tutoring, educational programs, and healthy after-school meals.
Those clubs are back open now, thanks to the help of two local philanthropic forces: the Audacious Foundation and Virgil Elings.
“It has been a challenging year for all of us, including United Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County (UBGC), and especially our youth. These extremely generous donations are going to allow us to reopen our clubs,” said Tony Vallejo, UBGC Board president.
After months without school and sports, many children are cut off from their daily routines, and face the effects of social isolation and inactivity. UBGC, Jane and Paul Orfalea and Virgil Elings want to address this need and fill the gap left by school closures.
Making safe activities available to kids who need them most is increasingly vital. Due to public health guidelines and the inability to have events, UBGC only had funding to open one location for summer camp.
“One of the greatest legacies of this pandemic is that children haven’t been able to be outside and playing. We need to get kids moving their bodies, taking care of their physical fitness and being connected with their peers,” said Jane Wood Orfalea.
“The United Boys & Girls Clubs are perfectly set up to support the health and wellness needs of children in Santa Barbara County,” she said.
Summer camper Gabriel, age 9, “has an active imagination and looks forward to obstacle courses and kickball tournaments,” said club director Jose Luis Martinez, “His favorite thing to talk about is how to make the world a better place.”
Gabriel’s dad told Martinez, “This program has been a huge relief, not having to worry about my kid getting the right education and physical activity. I can now focus on my job now that he doesn’t have to go to work with me.”
All eight sites from Carpinteria to Lompoc will now be able to open their doors from 3-6 p.m at no cost to children who qualify for free and reduced school lunch. For three hours every weekday, hundreds of kids will be able to take dance and yoga classes, learn organic gardening, take part in outdoor activities, and eat a healthy snack.
Due to current health guidelines, all this would not have been possible without additional funding. The club needs to hire additional staff and regular cleaning is required, meaning without donations, membership dues would cost more and be out of reach for many low-income families.
Elings a longtime supporter of the clubs, recognizes their impact on the community and its youth.
“Times are tough right now, and we all need to help out the kids,” Elings said. “After all, they are our future.”
“I can’t thank Paul, Jane and Virgil enough,” said Michael Baker, UBGC’s CEO. “Their gifts will allow us to open our clubs again to those that need us the most.”
UBGC’s next goal is to open four club sites as community learning centers during the day for working families that do not have access to childcare. The cost of the program for each youth is $150 per week.
Many members do not have a conducive learning environment at home, and this program provides students with in-person educational support and free meals. UBGC’s goal is to raise $250,000 to provide scholarships to kids with the highest need who would otherwise not be able to afford the fee.
To sponsor a child and support this effort, visit www.unitedbg.org.