ATLANTA – In the fall of 2015, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), launched their new Boys & Girls Clubs - Alumni & Friends Club to engage its estimated 16 million Club Alumni. Alongside Alumni & Friends Club spokesperson Shaquille O’Neal, numerous other celebrity ambassadors, hundreds of local Boys & Girls Clubs, corporate and media partners, BGCA called for former Club members to join the movement in building great futures for the next generation. The response to their call has been nothing short of impressive.
And why not? For more than 100 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (GreatFutures.org) has enabled young people most in need to achieve great futures as productive, caring and responsible citizens. The organization’s vision is that all Club members graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character, citizenship and 21st century leadership skills as well as leading a healthy lifestyle. While BGCA’s reach is unparalleled, the crisis facing America’s kids remains paramount. In the U.S. every afternoon, 11 million kids (one in five) leave school with no place to go, and they risk being unguided and unsafe.
It’s estimated that one out of every 16 Americans has been a Club kid at one point in their life. In an effort to reconnect, BGCA is leveraging the power of social media and rallying its celebrity alumni and friends as part of this effort with wellknown supporters like Jennifer Lopez, Usher, Evander Holyfield, Nick Cannon, Queen Latifah, Victor Cruz, Michael Phelps and others encouraging their social media fans and followers and the millions of Club Alumni to join.
Since 2010, in fact, Jennifer Lopez has been a national spokes-person for BGCA. She says the Club set her on a path to future success. “It gave me a place to go. It started my kind of creative side,” she said in a public service announcement for BGCA. “I would dance and spend my afternoon there and go home to have dinner and dream about the next day and what we were going to do, and it just gave me a great sense of hope. It’s never something that’s going to get old – the kind of nurturing children or helping them dream or giving them self-esteem or giving them a sense of community. It is something we’re always going to need. It’s just as important now as ever.”
Of course, if it wasn’t for Lopez’s mother, Guadalupe, she might have missed out on this life-changing experience. Her mother, a kindergarten teacher, knew first-hand how valuable this program could be for Jennifer who was 14 at the time. It was 1983, and the Kips Bay, South Bronx Boys Club had just expanded its reach to include girls. There, Jennifer met Larry Maldonado, someone who had himself been a Boys Club member and was giving back to the community by teaching dance in the Kips Bay Club. Larry’s brother Harold (who also taught club members at the same time) told WebMD’s Rebecca Ascher-Walsh that Lopez showed signs of superstardom even as a young teen. “Jen was immediately one of the more active members of our dance program. Every day she would say how much she looked forward to being with Larry to take dance classes, and she was always involved in teaching the younger students. One day, Larry said, ‘Jen is going to make it,’ and I said, ‘All the kids are going to make it.’ He said, ‘Yes, but there’s something special about her. She shows that certain potential.’ She was very motivated.”
On Kip Bay Club’s website, Lopez acknowledges that the Maldonado brothers and the BGCA team changed her life. “The staff recognized a spark of performing potential in me and brought that spark alive. Soon, I was singing and dancing in regular Club performances and before long was part of the Club’s traveling troupe. I can honestly say I don’t know where I’d be today without the Club.”
Aside from honing her artistic skills, BGCA helped form Jennifer’s passion for and commitment to making a difference in the world. In addition to her work with BGCA, Lopez works with children via The Lopez Family Foundation, a not-for-profit organization she founded with her sister, Lynda, to improve the health and well-being of women and children around the world through health education and increasing the quality of medical care available to them. The organization, in partnership with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, opened its first telemedicine center in Puerto Rico in 2010 and seven new centers in Panama since. The foundation also recently opened the Center for a Healthy Childhood in the Bronx, New York, in partnership with the Montefiore Medical Center, which aims to promote healthy eating, exercise and improve outcomes and access to care for women, children and families.
An actress, recording artist, producer, fashion designer, author, entrepreneur and humanitarian, Jennifer Lopez was honored with the Hero Award at the 2015 Radio Disney Music Awards (RDMA), in recognition of her fervent and unceasing philanthropic efforts in the U.S. and around the world.
“Boys & Girls Clubs have impacted the future of multiple generations with 54 percent of our alumni saying that their Club saved their lives,” said Jim Clark, president & CEO of BGCA. He stresses the importance of reconnecting with the millions of former Club kids so that they can be part of a “call to action to come together as advocates and ambassadors for Clubs around the country. The goal is make sure that “every kid in America has an open door to a great future.”
“It is imperative for all Club Alumni to come together to support kids in this country,” said Larry Young, president and CEO of Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Larry and his wife Colette co-chair BGCA’s Alumni & Friends initiative. “My Boys & Girls Club was an important part of my childhood and also taught me the importance of giving back. I’m inviting all alum to join me to help build a great future for the next generation of leaders.”
In a recent survey of Club Alumni, over a third (33 percent) reported that without the Club they would have dropped out of high school. Nearly 66 percent of alumni reported that they became more committed to their education because of the Club, and 64 percent said that the Club helped them improve their grades.
Today, more than 4,100 Clubs serve nearly 4 million young people annually through Club membership and community outreach. Clubs are located in cities, towns, public housing and on Native American lands throughout the country, and serve military families in BGCA-affiliated Youth Centers on U.S. military installations worldwide. They provide a safe place, caring adult mentors, fun, friendship and high-impact youth development programs on a daily basis during critical non-school hours. Priority programs emphasize academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles. In a Nielsen Survey, 54 percent of alumni say the Club saved their lives. National headquarters are located in Atlanta.
“We can build a better future for our nation’s kids,” Clark said. “Who better to do that than the millions of Club Alumni whose lives were forever changed at a Boys & Girls Club? We encourage everyone whether you are alumnus or friend to join us and be a Boys & Girls Club member for life.”