Club Story: Engaging Families in East Tennessee

ClubX Blog fav Lesa Sexton is back with a brand new resource on Family and Caregiver Engagement, plus an interview with a Club that took their engagement strategies to new heights during the pandemic.

Have you ever taken a minute to just sit with the Boys & Girls Clubs mission? Like, really sit with it? 

To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. 

All young people. Their full potential. That is NOT a small task!

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One thing is for sure: we know we can’t do this work alone. We have to partner with schools to better understand the strengths and needs of our youth. We have to work alongside local officials to advocate for resources that our youth need to succeed. We have to reach out to businesses and community organizations that can provide volunteers, programming, and additional opportunities for our youth. And we ABSOLUTELY have to engage families and caregivers to ensure we are working collaboratively to give youth all the support they need to succeed.

But instead of having me wax on about how important family and caregiver engagement is (it is!), it seems best to hear it straight from the people who do it every day: Club staff. Recently we spoke with Christina Baker-Smith, Chief Administrative Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Dumplin Valley, to hear her thoughts on why family engagement is so important to the work that we do. 

Why is family and caregiver engagement important to your Club?

Boys & Girls Clubs is one piece of the community that helps to grow a child.  Club staff and school day teachers spend a lot of time with young people. However, caregivers are still the “subject matter experts” on any young person that steps into our building.  They have the “case history” of the child.  Because of that, building strong relationships with families and caregivers is very important to the overall development of a Club member.  Anything we do at the Club to support families provides a lift to the other pieces of the community that are providing support.

What are some of the ways you’ve engaged with families?

The first step to engaging caregivers is giving them an opportunity to communicate what they need. We use pulse checks and surveys to get their feedback to make decisions about our programs and services.

We then try to make events appealing to caregivers. One of our most successful events was a take-and-bake pizza night. Families participated in an educational math activity and left with a complete pizza to bake at home. We also try to have “one stop shopping” so families have multiple incentives to attend an event. We might invite a partner to answer questions about insurance policies on the ACA, allow families to sign up for summer programming, and offer a workshop on supporting literacy in young readers-all at the same event. 

During COVID we shifted to provide COVID-specific needs, for example holding drive-thru events where we distributed food and activity kits. We also did this in place of our normal holiday party, instead hosting a drive through where families received food baskets, warm winter clothes, and a catered individual meal.

What promising practices can you share about how to effectively engage with families? 

Family engagement is all about relationship development. Just like with youth, engaging caregivers on a personal level is the key to ongoing engagement.

What advice do you have for others who are looking to strengthen family engagement at their Club?

Start by assessing current services and events for families and caregivers. Survey caregivers to see if those services are needed, effective, and use caregiver time wisely. Work with staff to create an organizational philosophy on family engagement, so that all staff are on board with how to work with families and caregivers. Take the time to have collaborative planning sessions to create best practices specific to the organization and community.

Now I know what you’re thinking- this family and caregiver engagement stuff sounds pretty neat! Where do I sign up?!

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Why, I have just the thing for you! Presenting (ta-da) the hot off the press Family & Caregiver Engagement Planning Guide, available to everyone on the Program Basics Planner. Just scroll down to the very bottom of the page! (And the crowd goes wild!)

Want information about the importance of caregiver engagement? It’s in there. Steps to developing a solid family engagement strategy? Also in there. Ideas for how to engage with caregivers, recommendations for virtual engagement, and promising practices from Clubs? Yes, yes, and yes-all in there. You can even access a set of tools and templates to give you a running start.

So check it out and let us know what you think by emailing! And if you have any promising practices, emails us those as well!  

Lastly, if you want to stay in the know about some upcoming Family & Caregiver Engagement webinars, sign up for the Education Learning Community newsletter at 

How do you engage families and caregivers at your Club? What are your best programming ideas? Let us know! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email

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