As we think about the past year, one thing is certain- Boys & Girls Club staff have stepped up to the plate over and over again, persevering with endless creativity for youth. BGCA’s Susan Ciavolino and Crystal Dixon are here today to introduce us to one of them.
It’s been a year since we started pivoting, Zooming, opening/closing Clubs, constantly cleaning and a bunch of other stuff in the midst of these “unprecedented times.”
But local Club staff have responded with SO MUCH energy, creativity, and innovation! One of the most awesome parts of working at BGCA is having a window to peek into the new world you are creating for the youth we serve. I’m inspired daily by interactions with Club staff.
But it’s been a llllooooonnnnng year, so how do we keep it fresh, whether in Clubs, connecting virtually, or even running your own school/virtual learning center? I got some great ideas from Anna Sebunnya, Education Director at the Waltham Boys & Girls Club. I was blown away by Anna’s facilitation in the video her CEO shared with me. As she is facilitating one of our brand new DIY STEM activities on MyFuture, she weaves together social-emotional skill building, STEM content, and design thinking into a dynamic learning experience for youth, all while being warm, witty, and welcoming. (Um… I think that makes her W3!)
Take a look for yourself! SHE’S PRETTY AWESOME.
When I spoke with Anna, I learned a little about her journey to Boys & Girls Clubs, and she shared her thoughts about how to continue engaging youth in the middle of a pandemic.
She got her start at the Waltham BGC as an AmeriCorps Fellow. “I entered undergrad as a political science major because I’ve always wanted to make a difference. I ended up hating all my classes, but my roommate was an education major. She convinced me to try education. I fell in love!” At the Club, she immediately felt at home, and loved the opportunities to connect with the kids, the autonomy to adjust the activities and curriculum to meet the needs of the community, and the knowledge that she was making a difference. “This work is so much bigger than me. All these small changes snowball into big changes and that’s incredibly fulfilling.”
There weren’t a lot of STEM programs or dedicated education programs at the Waltham BGC when Anna started. She gradually built up a following of youth who were always there and then others joined in little by little. Her CEO, Erica Young, put it this way: “Anna connects really well with kids and teens of all ages because she is authentic, fun and cares deeply about the young people she works with. As you can see from her videos, she shows that it’s ok to be silly and things don’t need to be perfect for them to be great. These are lessons that are important for youth as well as adults.”
Did you catch that? Things don’t have to be perfect to be great. Think about that for a minute. Working on a project and something breaks? No problem. Anna’s did too. Your car only goes backwards? Okay, try again. You had a 50/50 chance anyway. Maybe a goofy thing happens and you end up with a flying straw? She invites us to have fun and laugh at ourselves. Who wouldn’t want to build their very own motorized car along with her?
I asked how she prepares for projects, and she said she goes through the activity to get an idea of where there might be questions, talking herself through it. Then she records herself on her phone, adding random thoughts and teachable moments as they come to her. “Then I just edit out what doesn’t make sense!” Her Club purchased a subscription to WeVideo that they use for all their videos. She assures me it is intuitive and easy to use for all their staff, with lots of features that allow for the special effects.
They use the videos with their Club kids and with those in the community who can’t come to the Club. The Waltham BGC is part of the pilot program for testing the new MyFuture individual STEM kids, so they gave out kits to families who picked up meals at their “Grab and Go” dinner program. Families can then watch the video, do the project with supplies from the kit, and share a picture of what they created. Anna also hosts a Zoom session where youth can drop in and ask questions. It’s all about giving them ways to engage with her.
We all know the importance of youth voice, and Anna agrees. How do you make it relevant and engaging? “I ask.” And then she researches, studies, asks her younger siblings- she does whatever it takes to stay current with trends.
But that’s not her only strategy. She also recommends exposing youth to what YOU love. Their curiosity will grow as they watch you learn and share about your passions. “And if you are having fun, they will have fun!” It’s also a key part of staying mentally healthy at all times, but especially during a pandemic. “I have definitely brought in programs that no one has asked for, but I said ‘This is for me and we are going to do it.'” Take care of yourself!
Anna is a spectacular role model. And even as I celebrate her and the wonderful work she is doing, I am reminded that there are so many “Anna’s” in Clubs across the country who are busy loving, encouraging, and leading youth into so many adventures. Thank you! Our members need you to continue being you!
Thanks to the generosity of Thermo Fisher Scientific, BGCA recently added more activities to DIY STEM on MyFuture. We also worked with STEMfinity.com to create individual STEM kits that make virtual STEM activities much more accessible for Club staff to facilitate. You can learn more and purchase at STEMfinity.com/BGCA-MyFuture-STEM-Kit .