Beethoven Felix is a Senior Director of Teen Services for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale. BGCA’s own Laurie Rodriguez chatted with Beethoven about how he has stayed connected with his teens during this pandemic. Beethoven’s Keystone Club (Barker Interact Keystone Club) received the highest honor a Keystone Club can receive at the 2019 National Keystone Conference in Orlando, where they were named National Keystone Club of the Year.
First, tell me about yourself!
I’ve been part of the Boys & Girls Clubs Movement for 13 years here in Scottsdale, Arizona. I am the Senior Director of Teen Services & Workforce Development. I volunteered in 1999 since the University (Arizona State University) is just up the road and the six years later, I coached baseball and was asked to apply for a Teen Director’s position but I wasn’t sure about it. I started seeing commercials on television about Boys & Girls Clubs of America and had no idea how big the Clubs were and it inspired me and now, here I am still working with and for teens.
How are your teens coping with this pandemic?
Some teens are really struggling with the pandemic and the change to their everyday routine. I have reached out to my members and they have expressed that they are sad because they miss their friends and missing out on memories and camaraderie through high school sports. Seniors are missing prom, senior activities like ditch day and the biggest milestone- graduation. Those who come from single parent households have had to take on more responsibilities at home. And many live in small apartments and because there are a lot of family members living in the home, they do not get their own space and the privacy that a teen needs. They are trying to balance online schooling along with all of responsibilities at home, and it’s been tough for them, especially if their parent(s) are essential workers. They are staying home to care for their younger siblings and that in itself is a full time job. Teens are used to having more freedom to make choices and be in their own dedicated space like our Teen Center and they cannot wait to come back.
Members of his Keystone Club created a PSA video to share with their peers in the Club and others in the community with words of encouragement. Earlier in the week, Beethoven shared that teens wait each year to receive a Barker Keystone Club shirt and when the Club closed due to COVID-19, they hadn’t received them. A few weeks ago, he drove to each house and surprised some teens with a Barker Keystone shirt and said “they never looked so excited to see the Club van!”
Why do you think it is important to stay engaged with teens during this time?
I have stayed in contact with my teens through Zoom Meetings and the app BAND. We connect regularly and check in with one another. It is important to have an open line of communication with teens. Virtual programs are cool and we do programs like Keystone, but teens will find their own way to stay busy and being that open line of communication goes a long way for them. A lot of the time, they need someone to just listen to them so they can express how they are feeling. My teens will ask each other for homework help, they check in on each other if they haven’t heard from someone in a while, and I see them go back and forth in conversation to keep each other uplifted and I remind them that we will all see each other in person soon. It is so important for staff to be a social support for teens. Teens are worried about the long term effects of the pandemic. They need hope for the future. I always remain positive with them and tell them that with all this time lost, we will make up for it because in every conversation, someone always asks, “When is the Club going to be open?”
What advice would you give youth development professionals as they look for ways to creatively engage teens?
Focus on gardening instead of farming. Getting teens involved in anything is always challenging and it is not going to happen overnight.
Here’s what I mean by “Gardening”- Focus on the teens you currently have and listen to what they want to do in your program/teen center. Teens are the best recruitment tool you will ever have. They will promote and tell their friends what you are doing. Their voice is so important when you want them to participate. It takes time to build a successful program, in person and virtual. It will not happen overnight. You have to stay consistent with your schedule and with the teens and include them in planning. If the teens are excited about something, they will look forward to it every single time you host. Your current teens will set a standard for the program without you even asking them to do so because you inspired them to take the lead. Have fun with them and listen! It is not your program, it is theirs.
As I continued my conversation with Beethoven, he became more and more passionate. You can hear it in his tone and see it on his face when he talks about the teens in his teen center. He says he can’t wait until they reopen so he can see all their faces and see the Club bustling with teens again. Beethoven is planning on celebrating his high school seniors with their families and watching them sign the famous senior wall. Three years ago, the teens saw Beethoven put in extra-long hours after the Club had closed because he was working to complete his Master’s Degree Program in Psychology from the University of Phoenix (as a BGCA Scholarship Recipient, no less!). And after he officially graduated, his teens walked him over to the senior wall and had him sign his name. He said “That was the hands-down, most memorable experience in my 13 years in the Boys & Girls Club Movement.”
Connecting with teens during the pandemic is a challenge, but more important than ever. Learn the 7 Things to Consider about Teens and Virtual Club, and see all of our teen content by by browsing the Teens tag on the ClubX Blog.