Story by Patricia McKnight, Communications Intern (Summer 2019)
2020 Government Relations Plan
For nearly 160 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) has served America’s children and teens with high-quality programs in academics, health & wellness and character & leadership. BGCA provides safe spaces for kids after-school, outcome-driven programs, healthy meals and snacks, and an array of constructive activities for over 4 million youth annually. BGCA’s vision is to ensure America’s youth voices are heard and acknowledged with their ultimate goal to build awareness and understanding of the importance of out-of-school-time (OST) and youth development. Although BGCA has made great strides toward this vision, too many children are still lacking access to meals and high quality OST programs. Argosy Foundation has partnered with BGCA to help them launch their 2020 Government Relations Plan, a comprehensive three-year effort to increase awareness and investments in OST and youth development at all levels of government and society.
Investments in the 2020 Government Relations Plan have allowed BGCA to create and advance an advocacy platform, the Agenda for America’s Youth, which will publicly launch on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on September 25. The platform prioritizes efforts around five key tenants: Out Of School Time; Physical & Emotional Safety; Health and Wellness; Education, Leadership and Workforce Readiness; and Equity and Inclusion.
Before the grant in 2017, BGCA had identified a major untapped opportunity to put the voices of their large network of volunteers to good use. “We built our Agenda for America’s Youth as a result of this grant, which is huge. Prior to the Argosy Foundation funding this work, prior to 2017, there was no platform, we hadn’t determined what issues we felt comfortable talking about on behalf of the youth. With the Agenda we have an opportunity to champion issues that influence the success of our nation’s future generations,” said Jacqueline Flynn, National Director of Foundation Relations for BGCA. Since then, advocacy training includes online webinars, conference meetings, year-round advocacy calendars and many other tools to help Clubs and State Alliances with advocacy planning and engagement. This partnership has allowed BGCA to dedicate staff and training directly to Government Relations engagement at all levels of the organization and at all levels of government including, local, state and national.
At a local level, the Government Relations Plan has allowed BGCA to expand the capacity of clubs to advocate in their own communities by launching grassroots advocacy plans. Local Clubs are able to partner with parents, community members, and others in order to form small groups of advocates. These advocates are given opportunities to elevate BGCA’s mission with letter writing workshops to city officials, attending council meetings and connecting Club teens with their elected officials. In 2018, BGCA reached its goal to get 360 Club organizations to participate in year-round advocacy. The increase in engagement, the organization attributes to use of new grassroots network and online advocacy platform, a direct result from this partnership. Access to the online platform was distributed to Club CEOs and resulted in over 3,000 messages sent to members of Congress.
In the first two years of this plan, BGCA staff were able to dedicate almost 250 hours of specific advocacy training to State Alliances and Clubs focusing on specific opportunities for advocacy, Club engagements during the upcoming election season, and training for newly hired Club employees. Flynn attests that advocacy of local clubs has expanded since the initial Government Relations Plan was introduced. “Prior to this grant local clubs intentional and strategic engagement in Government Relations or advocacy was sporadic. Part of that was because BGCA didn’t have the Agenda for America’s youth. This grant has enabled us to launch the Agenda for America’s youth and as a result we are encouraging a large network of advocates,” said Flynn.
“It’s all part of our mission to become the number one advocate and champion for America’s youth. That we are the trusted voice, that we can say ‘this is what’s happening to our kids and this is what needs to be done and this is why we need your support’.
This initiative has also allowed State Alliances to work together more closely to become stronger advocates for youth and OST programs throughout their state. “Prior to this grant we had State Alliances at varying capacity levels nationwide, but we’re definitely closing the gap on what the State Alliance variability was,” said Flynn. Their statewide advocacy plans call for more site visits of elected officials so they can get a first-hand look at why OST is important to the youth of today. Alliances work directly with state officials to formulate new policies and elevate issues from state-wide to national. Alliances are engaging officials by inviting them to visit their local Clubs. BGCA surpassed its goal to increase visits to local clubs by federal and state officials for 2018. 516 Club tours were conducted and 370 of those visits were from state and local officials. Club site visits hosted by State Alliances give legislators a better understanding of the importance of OST and youth development.
Annually, BGCA hosts a National Day of Advocacy where club youth, staff and volunteers gather at the U.S Capitol to discuss key issues and create new partnerships as part of their advocacy framework. One national priority the BGCA has is to expand and support meal and snack programs through the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. This law, which formally expired in 2015, allows children access to free, healthy meals and snacks up to three times a day so that children can stay energized and focus on learning instead of hunger. In addition to formal re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act, BCGA and partners are advocating that the current requirement that 50% of a community’s youth be eligible for free or reduced meals in order to participate be dropped to 40%, allowing more children much needed access to this program. This has dramatic real world consequences for kids in Clubs and other OST programs. For example, in just The Boys & Girls Club of Durant, Oklahoma, participation in the program has allowed the Club to serve more youth, the Club now serves 53,380 meals and 20,500 snacks each year.
“It’s all part of our mission to become the number one advocate and champion for America’s youth. That we are the trusted voice, that we can say ‘this is what’s happening to our kids and this is what needs to be done and this is why we need your support’. So, that’s’ our intention and why grants like this support our work and are so vital,” said Amy Becker, Director of Media Advocacy and Communications.
The Boys & Girls Club of America has had a strong impact on the lives and futures of millions of youth for over 150 years, and investment and focus on the 2020 Government Relations Program only strengthens their success in advocating for and provoking change in the way we serve America’s future leaders. The Argosy Foundation is a proud partner with BGCA and all of their efforts for change. To learn more about BGCA and its advocacy framework visit their website at www.bgca.org.