by Matthew Lemberg, Executive Director, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley

I was hired by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley in 2003 to be the Teen/Athletic Director. And while our organization has had some success with our athletic programs during this time period – primarily with our soccer league – we haven’t had as much success with our teen programs. Over the past 13 years, we have offered a number of programs specifically for teens, such as dances, Jr. Staff (volunteering), open gym (basketball) and Teen Night at the Mall to name a few, but none of these programs engaged teens in a consistent or meaningful way. Our goal has always been to help our members graduate high school with a plan for their future, but over the past few years, we have felt like we are only helping our members get halfway there. Knowing that Boys & Girls Clubs throughout the movement were making teen programs a priority (Boys & Girls Clubs of America named 2016 the Year of the Teen) this year, our Board of Directors dedicated an entire board meeting recently to discuss teen programming ideas. At this meeting, it was mentioned that Julie Andersen, the Young Adult Librarian at the Vista Grande Library, had been hosting an activity for teens in the library every day after school from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. As a result of this meeting, staff was encouraged to meet with Julie to discuss a possible partnership.

We met with Julie and CGUHSD officials in January with the following proposal: We would have two of our staff members at the library each day to offer one or two activities, in addition to the activities put on by library staff. We would extend this program by an hour, or until 6:00 pm, which would allow students from Vista Grande to ride the activity bus home. Everyone liked the idea, so we decided to try it out for six weeks at the end of the school year to see if it was a model that we could make work. From there, we started meeting with different student groups to solicit their feedback on what activities they thought we should include in this program. These students provided some great feedback! They thought we should offer educational activities, food, fun activities, special interest classes and volunteer opportunities, among other things. After these meetings, we tasked the library’s Teen Advisory Board (TAB) with coming up with a name for this program. After much discussion, they decided to call it The Lounge. Everyone felt this name was fitting as this program’s main space was the library’s north Community Room, which we turned into a “teen lounge” with amenities like a bumper pool table, food, a foosball table and video games.

We officially started this program on April 4. Fourteen teens came into The Lounge on that first day to play games and hang out. We hosted our first expanded Trivia Contest that Tuesday and the winning team received Harkins gift cards. Word began to spread and our program continued to grow. Our average daily attendance was 25 during week two, 34 during week three, 39 during weeks four and five, and 44 during week six. Our largest single day was April 27, when we hosted our first outdoor activity –a disc golf tournament – in the school’s Commons Area and 56 teens participated that day. Two other highlights from this trial include 85 total teens attending this program at least once, including 5 students from both Casa Grande Union High School and Mission Heights Preparatory High School, and throughout the entire program, we had an average of 18 teens still with us at 5 p.m. This means that they all stayed for at least two hours. Additionally, we asked participants to complete a survey when they started attending and then again during the last week. These surveys provided some great feedback for us to consider as we looked at moving forward (and as you will see below, as we do move forward).

I am proud to announce that our Board of Directors voted unanimously to continue this program at our May board meeting. As we discussed that night, our biggest challenge will be funding this new program, because we don’t plan to have any fees associated with this program. As we gear up to open the program once again on August 5 (CGUHSD’s first day of school), we will be ready to build on last year’s success and expand this program with more activities like ACT/SAT Prep, music production and tutoring. We appreciate our partnership with the Vista Grande Library and Vista Grande High School, and we are excited that this program will finally help our organization effectively serve teens!