After what can be mildly described as a tumultuous election season, you might wish you could unplug from everything that has to do with government anything. BUT! We can’t do that! Like it or not, government at every level- federal, state, and local (like city or county) – has a HUGE impact both on the work we do and on the lives of our youth. We’ve got a whole Government Relations Department at the BGCA National Office that is working all year long. While a lot of what we do is around securing funding for Club initiatives (looking at you, food programs!), there are many other ways that Club staff can be advocates for youth. What does being an advocate mean? And what can I do at my job level?
To advocate for something means to publicly recommend or support it. While you can advocate for literally anything to anyone (I personally have been a HUGE advocate of the Great British Baking Show to all of my friends and now to you), it is usually connected to supporting policies or bills that you want to see your government work on or enact.
At BGCA, our official policy platform is called the Agenda for America’s Youth. Overall, we believe that who you are, where you’re from, or the circumstances that surround you shouldn’t determine your access to experiences or opportunities. We believe that youth development and out-of-school time are economic, moral, and national MUSTS because they are vital to close the kinds of opportunity gaps that can exist in communities today. Boys & Girls Clubs and our friends at other out-of-school time providers do the work of setting youth up for success in education, their career, and many other facets of their life.
The Agenda for America’s Youth serves as a guide for policies we advocate for, which fall into one of five buckets including:
- Out-of-School Time
- Safer Childhoods
- Health & Wellness
- Education, Leadership & Workforce Readiness
- Equity & Inclusion
I know that you are already thinking about how the work you do day in and day out in the Clubhouse aligns with these buckets too. In fact, the work YOU do is the best tool we have when we meet with lawmakers! We share the stories of the powerful impacts your Clubs are making on youth as evidence that investing in youth development WORKS. And we have an upcoming opportunity for Clubs to share those stories.
March 1-5 is one of the very best weeks to be a part of the Boys & Girls Club Movement, National Days of Advocacy! Each spring, hundreds of advocates from Clubs across the country come to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and their staff to talk about the issues affecting youth and the solutions that Clubs can provide
. One example is the way in which Clubs prepare youth for future careers. NDOA participants will be advocating for passage of the Youth Workforce Readiness Act which would create a grant program to support out-of-school time youth serving organizations that provide workforce programming. Club stories put a face to this issue and compel action by our elected leaders. Our strength comes from our reach and scope. There is a Club in nearly every Congressional district, so we hold a lot of personal connections to lawmakers.
This year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, legislator meetings will be virtual, which is actually great because it means more connections can be made than ever before. In fact, over 500 Club advocates have registered to participate in Virtual NDOA, our most ever! You can learn a little about what NDOA will look like this year in this video:
Whether or not your Club leaders are participating in NDOA, there are many ways for individuals to get involved and be a strong advocate for youth:
Join the Catalyst for Change Advocacy Network to take action on issues impacting America’s youth. You will receive urgent emails or texts asking you to make your voice heard when it’s needed most at the local, state, and federal levels of government. Share the sign up link with others to help us build our grassroots power! There is strength in numbers, so when we can stand together, elected officials have to take notice.
Find out who your elected officials are at the federal, state, and local levels, and make sure they know about your work. You can use this site to find your representatives. Consider looking up both your home zip code and the Club site’s zip code, as in larger cities the legislators may be different. Invite them to special events and tours at your Club and write or call when you hear about issues or upcoming bills that affect youth. Find out if there are public meetings or town halls you can attend and come ready with questions about what actions they are taking to support your work. Remember that as a constituent, they represent you, and they want to hear what you care about.
During COVID, some Clubs have found success in hosting virtual Club tours and even tele-townhalls with their representatives. There are tons of great ways youth can be involved in events like these, including leading tours, preparing and asking questions, and sharing their stories. Our GR team put together a handy Virtual Advocacy Engagement Toolkit you can use to expertly put together your own digital advocacy.
Run programming that teaches youth the value of civic engagement. We’ve already talked about one of my favorite activities, iCivics, but did you know that we have a whole section of MyFuture dedicated to Advocacy, Activism, and Service? Teaching youth how systems of government work and how to advocate for the issues they are passionate about is empowering, both to them and to you! But remember- it is important that in your role as Club staff, you remain non-partisan.
Youth can also learn about the power of their voice through Leadership Clubs such as Keystone Club (the 2020 Keystone Conference was all about advocacy!), Torch Club, and Youth of the Year. Stay on the lookout for a refresh of the beloved program Youth for Unity in 2021.
Share your story with elected officials. Stories are one of the strongest, most effective tools in our advocacy toolbelt. They put a face to complex issues, raise awareness and can inspire action. Share your own Club story whether it be about a particular youth, program, or how the Club impacted you using our Share Your Story tool and we may use it in upcoming advocacy campaigns with elected officials.
We will keep sharing ways to get involved in BGCA’s advocacy efforts as well as programs to teach civic engagement here on the ClubX Blog and on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page because we know that we have the opportunity to make a huge impact. To access additional advocacy and government relations resources, visit the Government Relations page on BGCA.net.