Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston releases groundbreaking report on COVID-19 impacts and resiliency among youth in Greater Houston Region
This article was originally published by The Katy News on August 13, 2021.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston (BGCGH), in affiliation with The Hackett Center for Mental Health, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and a specially-appointed Blue Ribbon Panel, has released a groundbreaking report titled Fostering Resiliency in a Post-Pandemic World. The report, funded by BHP, details findings on the impact of COVID-19 among youth in the Greater Houston area and provides specific actions/recommendations on resiliency programming for Boys & Girls Clubs in a five-county region.
The Greater Houston community has been impacted by traumatic events in recent years, including Hurricane Harvey and the Santa Fe High School shootings, coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which brought to light numerous inequities. These factors convinced BGCGH leadership of the urgency of developing organization-wide strategies to foster youth resiliency.
In May 2021, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston convened a Blue Ribbon Panel for an information session with its leadership, facilitated by The Hackett Center for Mental Health. The Panel is a brain trust of community leaders committed to youth development and after-school programming. Participants represented a range of organizations with relevant experiences and perspectives, including K–12 and higher education, mental health services, philanthropy and workforce development.
The panel’s purpose was to convene subject matter experts committed to youth development and after-school programming to (1) identify and co-create solutions to address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 and (2) provide guidance on resiliency initiatives that focus on social justice, health, education and economic development. The related strategies, programs and interventions recommended in the report will be additions, not replacements, to BGCGH programming, with the goal of strengthening or enhancing current approaches.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston and clubs across the country to rapidly retool and rethink how to serve youth amidst a global crisis that has exacerbated existing inequities. BGCGH responded with a Response, Recovery, Resiliency campaign. In the 2020 Response phase, BGCGH focused on the urgent and immediate needs of Club members and their families, including addressing food insecurity and providing childcare for essential workers.
In 2020–2021, BGCGH entered the Recovery phase by offering safe programming and beginning the long process of helping members cope with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related stressors. In 2021, the nonprofit is launching the 24–36 month Resiliency phase to build on its Recovery efforts by addressing trauma and learning loss, while looking ahead to post-pandemic life. The Blue Ribbon Panel is a key driver of the Resiliency response.
“Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston has prioritized the physical and emotional well-being of our Club members and their families since the pandemic began through our programming and outreach,” says Kevin Hattery, President and CEO. “COVID-19 compounded existing inequities that disproportionately affect BGCGH youth and their communities, particularly communities of color. We will continue to support these young people and their families through innovative programming going forth.”
“The Blue Ribbon Panel was an invaluable asset in developing the recommendations that will inform our strategies to address inequities as we implement resiliency-based programming in all of our Clubs,” continues Hattery. “Great appreciation goes to BHP for funding the report and for its financial commitment during the pandemic. With these partners, we will continue to be a thought leader in youth development as we take our work to the next level.”
Hattery notes that as members return to Clubs during this month for the new school year, two of the major focuses are mitigation of pandemic learning loss and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). One of BGCGH’s core pillars is Academics, which give youth the opportunity to engage in enrichment activities designed to increase connections with school and boost their academic performances. This includes improving reading and math skills and retention of material, while fostering positive attitudes toward school. Trained staff and mentors work to bridge the learning gap from stay-at-home mandates with group and individual tutoring sessions, incorporating an SEL approach for additional support.
Additionally, part of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston’s mitigation strategy for pandemic and summer learning losses has been to align several of its in-person programs to TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). TEKS are learning standards set by the state of Texas for all school districts and represent the objectives students learn throughout the year.
“We are honored to work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, who are uniquely positioned to identify needs in the children they serve, many of whom come from communities that are considered under-resourced, and help them build the resiliency and coping skills needed to adjust to life’s challenges and thrive,” says Marcy Melvin, Deputy Director of The Hackett Center for Mental Health. “As part of the process, it is important to take a whole-child and whole-family approach when engaging children’s families as well, keeping them informed and as an active partner on the programs their children are involved in, and giving them the communication skills necessary to support ongoing resiliency development outside of the programs BGCGH offers.”
The Hackett Center uncovered six guiding principles for the Resiliency phase from common themes communicated in the Blue Ribbon Panel sessions. All BGCGH strategies, programs or interventions will complement one or more core pillars, including Healthy Lifestyles, Good Character and Citizenship, Academic Success and Workforce and Career Readiness, through a holistic approach targeting families and Club members. Each element will be:
- operated through a whole-child and whole-family lens;
- culturally informed, sensitive, and responsive;
- community connected; and
- measured and evaluated.
With these guiding principles as a framework, the major findings from the Blue Ribbon Panel sessions are:
- BGCGH youth have experienced varying levels of trauma and grief and will require supports to build resiliency and address the inequities exacerbated by COVID-19.
- COVID-19 and existing inequities highlighted by events in 2020 have led many young people to feel disenfranchised, powerless, and disconnected from their communities.
- Fostering resiliency takes time and effort and requires active motivation to develop those skills.
- BGCGH has a unique staffing model and serves a diverse community that spans a large geographic area with an array of needs.
Club communities vastly differ, and individual cultures and experiences should be represented in program approaches while viewing youth as partners, not simply as service recipients.
Detailed recommendations presented in the report correlate to each finding. For example, there are four recommendations for Finding #1 regarding youth experiencing grief and trauma. These are:
1a: Implement a tiered system of supports to help clubs address varying behavioral and emotional needs by giving all club members access to universal Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) supports at the base level, with built-in targeted small group and intensive individualized supports as needed.
1b: Highlight and celebrate community partnerships and referral systems that worked during the pandemic. Evaluate and reimagine the referral process.
1c: Extend supports and training to families to teach parents and caregivers communication and resiliency skills to implement at home.
1d: Address learning loss in youth.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston has begun implementation of the recommendations in the report. Mitigation of learning loss and a focus on Social Emotional Learning will be front and center going forward to help youth realize a bright future. You can read more about the key findings and recommendations in Fostering Resiliency in a Post-Pandemic World through this link.
For more information about Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston, please visit www.bgcgh.org.
The full article is available online here.