San Francisco’s Community Hub Initiative: Spotlight on the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco, Tenderloin Clubhouse
By Michael Vuong
I’m Michael Vuong, the Clubhouse Director of Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, Tenderloin Clubhouse and I oversee the day to day operations of our Community Hub along with leading our Clubhouse’s connection to the community. I bridge these two large parts of my work through opportunities that benefit everyone involved, especially for our families and staff. This can look a myriad of ways, but what doesn’t change is that my work, actions and words always come from a safety and Youth First perspective. Neighborhood art contests, career exposures with agencies in the Tenderloin, wrap-around services for families our neighborhood collectively serve and more, are ways I am able to connect our families to the neighborhood as a whole and a way to enhance services and support for the community.
Ultimately, I represent the work, the intentional planning, the authentic care, and the spirit of the work of the staff here as well. With that in my heart, I love to speak about the work that occurs at the Tenderloin Clubhouse that is driven and executed beautifully by our staff every day.
Our youth have proven to be more adaptable, more tech savvy, and more patient than we give them credit for. Many youth learned how to use computer apps that were literally JUST introduced to them. However, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been struggles with distance learning. Our staff come in, either by teaching the youth how to troubleshoot the issue, learn a new skill, or working with the youth and teachers to allow for time to disconnect, because it’s needed.
I remember Moises, a 1st grader struggling with keeping up with his classes. Switching between seeing his teacher on Zoom and going onto Seesaw (one of several platforms our youth need to learn in order to fully participate in distance learning) to see the assignment and match what he hears with what he sees has been difficult. Initially, Moises would shut down, close his laptop, push it away, put his head down, and literally not be able to operate.
Staff worked with Moises and his teacher to come up with some solutions. He identified he needed more staff attention along with a space away from his desk that he can go to when he feels himself getting frustrated. Adjusting their normal routine, staff ensured they checked on him the way he best responds. I remember walking into the space and seeing Moises sit on the bench he identified. He sat there on his own and was able to calm himself down. In a few mere moments of just watching him, Moises was able to sit back down and work on his laptop. Those are memories worth holding onto, watching a 1st grader practice managing his emotions and then becoming ready to step back into the space that was frustrating.
A day at the Hub
Our Community Hub has three cohorts serving K-12, so the experience for each of our youth may be slightly different, but in general, here are some things you can expect. A family is greeted at our doors with a warm welcome and a smile before a full COVID-19 health screening for the Club member. When safe and healthy, the youth enters their cohort program space and is again given a warm welcome and a smile.
Breakfast is served and early wellness opportunities are given before class or asynchronous classwork begins. At the youth’s table is their laptop, some headphones, and a personalized sanitized container full of supplies ranging from pens and pencils, to things like Play-Doh to help with de-stressing. Staff are walking around supporting the youth as needed, including tech issues or better understanding of assignments. Staff also take the time to clean tables and surfaces as kids drink water or use the restroom (one of several times cleaning occurs). During lunch time, staff cleans each table space as kids wash hands. While kids eat, there might be a movie or music playing and sometimes it’s an announcement opportunity. Whether it is before lunch or after, youth have an opportunity for physical activity. After three or so hours of computer time, the ability to stretch, run and see blue skies are needed. For most kids, there are one or two classes left after lunch.
Once school is over, staff provide enrichment. Art, movies, relaxation, leadership training, cooking, science, community meetings, extra physical activity time, and more, are set up for each cohort. This is where we get a really great opportunity to focus on social skills, building cohort comradery, learning how to negotiate, and other skills that are not being developed during online schooling. Throughout the day, staff recognize youth for the little things, work on community building, and really monitor the need for time away from the computer, a cool out space, or just an opportunity to catch their breath. The wellness of our youth and their safety are very important focus areas for us.
Providing a sense of home
Community meetings. They include our Youth of the Month recognition, some quick announcements, a community building game, or a question of the week that helps our youth really share with one another or be reflective of our own thinking and actions.
Our art programming and the different way we provide art. There’s the general free art time where kids do as they like, there are coloring books, but sometimes there are focused lessons and with those lessons, conversations and learning about and from one another occurs. We have staff that has been able to provide art classes through Zoom, allowing our youth to safely connect with more adults.
Special opportunities. The holidays that just passed is a great example of that. We ordered a special meal for each of our cohorts, each youth that attended the program received a gift, there were special projects that they were able to work on, and there were a lot of emotional giving to one another.
It may sound cliché, but it’s 100% true, I smile everyday knowing that our staff and families show up during the toughest time any of us have ever experienced. That gives me hope and it inspires me to always do my part to serve. Distance learning is HARD, but the kids show up every day. Operating a cohort and working with a dozen different school schedules is HARD, but the staff show up every day. And every day, we all do everything in our power to make the day great!
In order for our wonderful staff to be able to show up for the youth and families we serve, we must first be able to show up for ourselves and each other as a staff. Sometimes the wellness that is needed isn’t just with the youth, but with the staff. Sometimes it’s the trust and vulnerability.
I experienced a death in my family very recently. I could have easily kept it to myself and pretended like nothing happened, but what kind of leadership would I be showing by doing that? At a staff meeting, I let them know that my father passed. I told them, not for sympathy, but because I trusted them to take care of the Club and our families when I needed to step away and because it’s okay to be vulnerable if you feel safe enough to so. I felt safe enough with this team to do so. The staff, who were already doing amazing work, supported me as well, leading meetings, making calls that I might have made, and communicated with each other more and more to troubleshoot any issues. This experience made me think back and come to the realization how many times this staff allowed themselves to be vulnerable, to share info you share with family and close friends. This has made me proud of the very collective space our staff have created for each other, and in doing so, are creating the same type of spaces for our youth and families.
The City needs to continue to build and foster true and authentic partnerships to help Hub students and families thrive. It needs to listen to people in field and the families (both currently being served and still in need of services). Welcome changes and out-of-the-box thinking. Be flexible and adaptable. Be a voice for our families at tables that our families are not sitting at. Be on the forefront of problem solving. Help to make sure that the vaccines are equitably administered and done so quickly, including making sure frontline childcare workers are prioritized.
I believe 100% that San Francisco is still a great place to grow up. We know there is still a lot of work to do, but it has been amazing to see so many people rise to the challenge of this pandemic. As an agency, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco has had some sites that never closed during the entire pandemic, 10 sites were open all summer, and have been open since the first day of school in August. The Boys & Girls Clubs serve some of the most at-need youth in the neighborhoods that needed us most. Other agencies, similarly stepped up to provide a service and a place to provide wellness, guidance, support, and more.
Michael, what song motivates you to continue to serve our communities as we struggle and grind through the pandemic?
Talib Kweli, “Get By”
To learn more about DCYF’s Community Hub Initiative, visit dcyf.org/care.