One of the greatest strengths of Boys & Girls Clubs are how embedded we are in local communities. This is why we were so excited to hear about the Summer Migrant Program at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Holland! It is a wonderful example of a Club organization 1) identifying a local community need, 2) figuring out how the Club can meet that need, and 3) investing the resources (both financial and people) to make it happen! Staff members Mary Carrizales, Director of Program Development and Justin Caserta, Unit Director/Education Coordinator were thrilled to share about this dynamic program with the ClubX Blog, and some of the practical ways they it works. As you read, think about what needs in your community your Club may be uniquely suited to fill.
Bienvenido al Boys & Girls Club de Greater Holland! We are located in West Michigan and have Club demographics that tend to surprise people. In 2018-2019, our membership of 1,600 was 47% Hispanic youth. Part of the reason for this is our Club includes youth from two counties which have many seasonal workers who travel to the area for farmworker jobs. The crops being farmed include blueberries, apples, peaches, cherries, and celery, to name a few.
Working with the local school district, we have run a Summer Migrant Program for the past five years. As the migrant families travel from state to state to work collecting and processing crops, youth miss many days of school. The school district hosts summer school for the children of the field laborers who work on local farms, so that the kids can successfully proceed to the next grade level. Our Club offers an afterschool program for these youth providing a safe place to go while their parents work long hours, just like we do during the traditional school year.
In order to let the families know about our services, our staff visit many of the migrant camps nearby. First year staff are always startled by the living conditions in the camps, and that there are so many located in our community. Migrant farmworker families travel to many areas around the country and have learned to live under the radar of the communities in which they work. They visit primarily Hispanic-owned grocery stores and businesses, and it can be easy to miss that they are part of our community.
We have several staff who speak, write, and translate Spanish for the parents. All Club documents are also translated in addition to specialized flyers created for these families. Although there are some families who speak a native dialect from their countries of origin, Spanish is the primary language. We’ve had families join us from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and from as far south as Argentina.
The Club collaborates with the school district as well as other community agencies like health providers and food banks. We create a safe and fun-filled experience for children who are as young as Pre-K. Most teens only attend school and the program for a few weeks. Once the crop season kicks into high gear, they are pulled from school to help their parents in the fields.
The children in the migrant farmworker program arrive at the Club as the traditional summer program members are leaving for the day. Our staff do an amazing job in creating a calendar that gives these children new experiences. An example is Shark Week where they learned about the different kinds of sharks, played games such as sharks and minnows, and made fun crafts. Art projects are a special favorite because the youth enjoy creating items that they can take with them. The older members participate in field trips to the movies, the beach, and other local attractions, just like our traditional members do. We make sure our new community members have these opportunities because most of these youth won’t be able to have them anywhere else.
Additionally, we prepare and serve dinners each day for the members. A local food bank, The Children’s Food Basket, also provides protein-filled snacks for them to take home on the bus back to the camps. When we learn about other needs, we do what we can to address them. This past summer there were extremely high temperatures for several weeks in a row. We learned that many families didn’t have a way to buy window air conditioning units or fans. The Club had a collection drive, and it was so successful that we were able to provide for every family who needed one!
The Summer Migrant School usually lasts between 6-8 weeks. After the school is finished for the season, the Club continues to provide services for these children. We invite all of the youth to attend the regular summer program as long as they are in the area. We provide transportation to and from the camps each day. We are so excited every summer to see the families again! There are some we see every year, some we see every few years, and some we only serve one summer. It is a wonderful feeling to know that the families have learned to trust and rely on our services and knowing that we can help provide experiences that contribute to great futures for every child in our community.
What are some unique community needs your Boys & Girls Club has responded to? How have you worked with the children of migrant farmworkers? Share with us by commenting below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or at ClubXBlog@bgca.org.