A look inside the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County and Project LEAD

By: kelly Fliller April 22, 2021

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The Grunin Foundation had the pleasure of meeting Doug Eagles, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County, in 2018 to learn about the organization and Project LEAD. We wanted to share the story about this incredible organization and how Doug and his staff are impacting the lives of youth in Asbury Park and Red Bank.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (BGCM) empowers all young people—especially those who need it most—to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens.There has never been a day when BGCM wasn’t there for its kids. Then, COVID hit and they were forced to shut their doors temporarily. At the time, they (like the rest of the world) thought it would only be for two weeks. Even without knowing we were all in this for the long haul, they immediately sprang into action and migrated most of their programs to an online platform called BGCM Boundless. While it wasn’t what they were used to, it was a way for kids to safely see their counselors and friends, especially during a time of uncertainty.

When summer 2020 hit, it was clear COVID wasn’t going away any time soon. As they waited to get the word that they could reopen, BGCM continued helping the community and rolled out a food program across Asbury Park and Red Bank. By the end of summer, they had given out almost 20,000 meals to anyone who needed them. In the meantime, they were able to launch their in-person summer camp in July. Doug Eagles, Executive Director of BGCM said, “Although camp had to be run at dramatically reduced capacity, it was inspiring to see the kids go through this experience together.”

As the year went on, Doug and his team started to think about what BGCM could do during the school year and how they could use their space to help the school district and the families of their Club kids. They decided to open up their facilities in Red Bank and Asbury Park during school hours, creating Remote Learning Centers. The day began at 7:45 AM, when parents could drop their kids off for the virtual school day. BGCM was equipped with the necessary technology, including tablets and computers for those who needed them. Many of the parents did not have the flexibility to work from home, so this allowed them to continue to work while their kids stayed on top of their school work.

The team at BGCM was constantly realigning to fill in gaps as they emerged. They began to notice the isolation and anxiety created by the pandemic. It opened their eyes to how trauma plays a role in the lives of the kids they serve. Many of the kids had already been exposed to trauma before COVID hit. The health crisis added another challenging layer to this, and Doug knew they had to position the Club to better address trauma not only in the kids, but also the parents and the staff. He worked with the staff to provide trauma-informed care and eliminate stressful, toxic environments as much as possible. BGCM has always prioritized wellness, families, and resilience, and now the Club is even better prepared to handle unexpected situations, like the pandemic. Their goal is to create and foster a positive experience that allows kids to flourish in spite of trauma.

Project LEAD

In 2018, the Grunin Foundation met with Doug to discuss Project LEAD, a teen employment and empowerment program. Employment opportunities in Asbury Park are limited, and for those opportunities that do exist, teens in the community are often unprepared to succeed in a professional environment. In BGCM’s effort to improve the overall quality of teen programming, they modeled Project LEAD after the highly successful Teen Life Internship program at New City Kids, a nonprofit youth development agency in Jersey City.

Everyone at the Grunin Foundation was so impressed with Doug and his team and we knew Project LEAD was a great fit with our mission and pillars. We were happy to help fund Project LEAD and with that, the pilot was launched in the summer of 2018. Ten teens were selected for an eight-week Project LEAD summer camp where they gained employment and had access to professional development workshops and life coach meetings. Eight of the ten teens successfully completed all ten weeks of the program, and some stayed on to mentor others.

In the spring of 2019, Project LEAD was relaunched to better meet the needs of the participating teens. BGCM began surveying the teens to see what they wanted to get out of the program. From there, they focused on four key areas:

  1. Resume workshop – Everyone who completes the program leaves with a resume. They also work on interview skills and complete courses online (such as new-hire orientation and courses related to BCGM culture).
  2. Community engagement – The teens attend community events to help with event logistics but also to meet and network with community members.
  3. College/career readiness – Participants are guided along the path from a diploma to a degree. Or, if college isn’t the right option, teens will learn alternate pathways to successful careers.
  4. Keystone Club – As part of BGCM’s leadership and service club, teens complete a project where they learn leadership skills like creating program calendars, planning meetings and trips, matching incoming kids with services they need, and mentoring others.

The teens also complete a service project, which includes raising the funds needed to attend the Boys & Girls Club annual Keystone conference, where over 1,500 members from across the world meet. Since COVID hit, the conference has been virtual, but the teens are looking forward to the day when they can be back together again to network with peers, discuss important issues, and strategize on how to increase efforts in their local Clubs.

Looking ahead

Project LEAD is already making such wonderful impact in the lives of the teens it serves. One of the most inspiring outcomes of Project LEAD is seeing the teens grow – some even stay on as mentors or run different aspects of the program. While the impact has been great, there is still more to be done. Doug is hoping to use Project LEAD as a vehicle to empower youth to gain employment across all of Asbury Park. He hopes this will bring about an economic regeneration of the city. Doug and his staff will continue to find ways to cater the program to the teens’ needs, ensuring they are getting as much knowledge and experience as possible to succeed in a professional environment.

We look forward to seeing what Doug has in store for Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County, Project LEAD, and the youth of Asbury! You can learn more about BGCM by visiting https://bgcmonmouth.org.

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