Lawrenceville Boys and Girls Club member Abigail, with Club Executive Director Mr. Rory Johnson behind her.
Photo credit The Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta / bgcma.org
ATLANTA, GA, September 8, 2020
It was a Marvelous Monday, August 17th, 2020, when several sites of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta began to reopen. The 160-year-old national nonprofit Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) is headquartered in Atlanta, with its mission to “enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.” With some schools closing and economic hardship visiting some families during the COVID-19 crisis, the number of those in need has grown. This week a donation from the SGN community has helped to fill that need.
Donations were made to The SGN Store through purchases of Some Good Merch. The store, created by Some Good News (hosted in its first season by John Krasinski), is managed by Sevenly.org, which donates all proceeds to organizations including BGCA. Through the end of 2020 these donations are being matched by The Starbucks Foundation for COVID-19 relief efforts – up to $1 million of SGN Store donations. The partnership between SGN and The Starbucks Foundation is coordinated by 5th Element Group.
“We’re so blessed to help connect The SGN Community and the amazing people at The Starbucks Foundation with the heroes at Boys and Girls Club of America,” said Ed Martin, who is the Chief Omniwin Officer at 5th Element.
One of those heroes is Mr. Rory Johnson, Executive Director of the Club in Lawrenceville, a suburb northeast of downtown Atlanta.
For Mr. Johnson, every day is filled with joy – whether it be a Wonderful Wednesday, a Terrific Tuesday, or even a Marvelous Monday. He models that joy to his Club members, many of whom have been attending for years, the Club becoming like a home and Mr. Johnson like a father. When in mid-March the schools in Gwinnett County began closing, the area Clubs, including Lawrenceville, followed suit, and it was a long five months that followed. “We missed our children,” said Johnson. “They missed us.”
But even with the Club’s doors closed, the love and care didn’t stop. “We made a lot of calls to connect with our parents,” said Johnson, who worked alongside other Club executive directors and staff members to identify the biggest needs of Club members and their families. Over 150 computers were donated across the BGCMA Clubs. In some cases, Club staff delivered meals or staged drive-through food pick-ups for members and their families. “Club Connects” were organized – one-off events like social distance line dancing. But more than anything, it was the weekly phone call which reminded Club members and their parents that somebody cares.
“One of the ways we have the biggest impact is that relationship between the Club member and the staff member,” said Claire Guitton, COO of BGCMA and former VP of Club Safety and Risk Management. While Club closures typically follow the decisions of their partner school system, leadership understood that in this time of crisis, a new kind of flexibility was required. “Regardless of what the schools are doing,” said Guitton, “we knew it was critical to get kids back into our Clubs,” even if it meant that when Clubs reopened, things would have to look a little different.
At the Lawrenceville Club, different means a different title, with the Club now operating as a distance learning location. It means different hours, with the Club now temporarily operating from 8AM-4PM until schools reopen, as opposed to the usual 2PM-8PM after-school model. It means a different staff-to-member ratio, with the Club now operating at 25% of its old capacity for the foreseeable future in order to help ensure safety. And it means different programming, with some higher-risk activities like music classes being substituted out for online games and virtual learning spaces.
Reopening has also meant that the staffs at various Metro Atlanta Clubs have faced different challenges than they are accustomed to. Clubs have instituted safety measures to protect against COVID-19 including handwashing policies, social distance measures, frequent cleanings, as well as PPE and signage.
In addition, with many members now relying on the Club for access to their online schooling, securing ample, safe, and reliable internet connectivity has become a top priority. At the Lawrenceville Club, this has meant increasing bandwidth, installing firewalls, and purchasing additional devices.
It’s here that financial support such as this week’s donation from the SGN community has made the biggest impact in enabling Clubs like Lawrenceville to reopen. “If it weren’t for some of the donations that came through,” said Johnson, “our technology wouldn’t be where it is, with our ability to serve the kids that we have right now and eventually the kids that come back.”
To know what it means to have the Clubs reopen, just ask the members. Take Abigail, who was “really sad and devastated” to see the Lawrenceville Club close, where she had attended from 2nd grade all the way to her current 7th grade. Abigail is a multi-talented young woman, who loves to sing, dance, and take pictures, not to mention her role in the cooking program at the Lawrenceville Club and her famous homemade salsas. “I’m really really looking forward to seeing the Club bloom and blossom back into what it was before the whole COVID situation,” said Abigail, “because it was, honestly, amazing.”
It will be another Marvelous Monday when the Boys and Girls Clubs across the nation return to full strength, and donations like the one made by the SGN community help them get there. “Along with many other charity groups and nonprofits, BGCMA expects to see significant funding shortfalls due to the unanticipated costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ed Martin, “so making donations like these is more critical now than ever!”