For more than 70 years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County have opened doors for youth in our community and prepared them for successful, thriving futures. Despite its curveballs and challenges, this year has been no exception. The Boys & Girls Clubs have continued to serve and care for the kids of Whatcom County during the pandemic through innovative programs like Project Connect and at its newly acquired Kids’ World centers. These essential services are possible thanks to the compassionate work of Boys & Girls Clubs volunteers and staff, as well as the generous support of Peoples Bank.

The team at Peoples Bank is passionate about supporting the community. (And the Seahawks!) Photo courtesy Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County

Together, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County and Peoples Bank have been able to shore up families and youth throughout this challenging time. This holiday season, they’re providing meals for families struggling to access food, as well as items like laundry detergent, shampoo, feminine products, and other essentials through their care closets.

The Bank’s support has also enabled the Boys & Girls Clubs to take on ambitious projects. In late 2019, after learning that all four Kids’ World locations would be closing, the Boys & Girls Clubs made the decision to acquire them. It was a huge step, but one that Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Heather Powell says was in line with their mission. That mission, Powell explains, “is to serve the kids who need us most in the community.” Kids’ World practices open enrollment, serving the next child on the waiting list, and not limiting the number of spots subsidized by government funds. This approach provides 530 licensed spots for children of all income levels. “It means a lot to be able to support kids from four weeks old through high school graduation,” says Powell.

Students make sure they’re feeding their bodies and minds at the Clubhouse. Photo courtesy Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County

The Boys & Girls Clubs have always provided expert and compassionate care for the youth of Whatcom County and have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic with creative solutions, like Project Connect.

Project Connect is a response to the shift to virtual and hybrid learning, an educational format which, though necessary, can be a challenge for both students and their parents. The project helps students connect virtually to their school. 

“Some of the kids don’t have broadband internet in their homes that is strong enough to connect on one device, let alone multiple,” says Powell. “Some families don’t have the technical abilities to get a camera to work. We were hearing from working parents that even if they could work from home, they didn’t have enough internet capacity to support distance learning—especially for children in upper elementary and middle school.”

Kids stay connected with the Boys & Girls Clubs. Photo courtesy Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County

Project Connect significantly reduces stress on families as well as improves student academic outcomes. When the Boys & Girls Clubs first started this program, each middle school student had, on average, 27 missing assignments. “There wasn’t a lot of successful virtual learning when it came to the completion of assignments,” Powell says. Now? That average has dropped to three. Students are provided with technology that helps them connect to their classes and food to keep their bodies and minds strong and nourished throughout the day.

It’s more important than ever for students to have a place where they feel supported. The Boys & Girls Clubs can provide that because of the support they receive from community-oriented businesses like Peoples Bank, which has helped turn the Clubs’ dreams into reality.

One of those dreams was to have a ‘care closet’ at all the clubhouses. For many families whose kids come to the Clubs, replacing broken backpacks or outgrown shoes can be difficult financially. Powell wanted to change that. “The idea was that we could have closets in our clubhouses stocked with commonly needed items so that if a student needed a new backpack, for example, we could get one out and give it to them, and there wouldn’t have to be any attention drawn to it.”

Students participate in hands-on activities. Photo courtesy Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County

The team at Peoples Bank was happy to lend a hand to support this and the Clubs’ other programs. “We want to assist in any way we can,” says Jessica Lembo, district branch manager based at the Bank’s Cordata Office. “It’s a given that we’ll give back, and our management team empowers us to do just that.” Peoples Bank supports the Clubs financially and by helping with fundraising events and contributing volunteer hours.

This kind of support means the world to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County. “We can only exist if the community chooses to support us,” says Powell. “We’re always grateful to businesses like Peoples that support us through financial contributions and volunteer hours but also validates our ideas. It tells us we’re on the right track. Thanks to our collaboration with Peoples Bank, the Boys & Girls Clubs have improved the lives of hundreds of kids in Whatcom County.” 

To donate to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, please visit: www.whatcomclubs.org/donate.

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