Drop in to the Excelsior Youth Center any weekday after school hours and you can’t help being amazed at all of the activities offered to the young members. Two things you won’t encounter—kids being idle or complaining about being bored.
A facility in the heart of the Excelsior that today serves up to 300 youths a day was a vacant lot only 17 years ago. The 24,000-square-foot facility opened in 1998 to provide services to youth in a neighborhood with the highest concentration of residents under the age of 18 in the city.
The EYC is one of eight youth centers operated by the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco. The clubs are partly funded by the city Department of Children, Youth and their Families. Donations and grants provide the rest of the funding.
Membership is open to children between the ages of six and 18. Although most youth at the club reside in the Excelsior, there is no geographical restriction and members can use any of the other seven clubhouses.
The EYC has a cooperative relationship with the San Francisco Community Elementary School located next door. Students use the clubhouse gymnasium for physical education and school assemblies.
Jennifer Snyder, who has been the clubhouse director for four years, reports that about 175 to 190 children use the facility during each school day. As many as 300 come to the center during the summer.
The variety of services and programs offered by the center is staggering and ranges from academic support, social recreation, performing and fine arts, team sports and teaching computer skills. A state of the art recording studio is quite popular and is available to middle and high school students.
An annual fee of $10 is assessed for each member during the school year, from September through May. The fee may be slightly higher from June through August. Snyder says the fee can be waived if it would be a hardship for the family. “We never turn anyone away because we want to be all-inclusive. We pride ourselves on our diversity, which is reflected in the Excelsior and the city at large,” she says.
In addition to the director, the center employs 10 other paid staff, each with their own area of responsibility.
Snyder lavishes praise on her staff members. “They are dedicated to the kids we serve,” she says. “I rely on them for support and feedback; they are my eyes and ears.”
The first floor of the building is used primarily by elementary school students. Snyder emphasizes that after-school programs are highly structured. All eight of the Boys and Girls clubhouses are fully staffed with trained professionals, and members are constantly supervised. The club employs a van driver, who transports the children from their school to the clubhouse, but parents are responsible for taking them home.
Krisabelle, age 10 and a fifth-grader at Longfellow Elementary School has been a club member for almost five years. She participates in many activities at the club and especially enjoys Tuesday afternoon girls’ group meetings. “We talk about boys,” she says with a sheepish grin. “But we also do group art projects and are now creating skits. The staff here is always available to give us help and support.” She also participates in the “power play” sessions, which consist of a 30-minute period of non-competitive physical activity. She and some of her peers volunteer in the club’s community services. “Today we handed out food to homeless people and their pets at Golden Gate Park,” she says.
Snyder reports that the clubhouse often works with children who have special needs, such as cognitive or physical disabilities. These children often have aides who accompany them to the clubhouse to help supervise their participation. Staff will often refer these children to other community resources.
In addition to age-appropriate forms of recreation and academic support, the center offers teen members other skills to help them prepare for entering the job market. By earning volunteer hours, teens can eventually receive paid employment at the club for up to one year in customer service, clerical work or answering telephones.
The top floor of the building serves primarily as a teen center, with computers, a pool table and the recording studio. Those interested in going on to college can receive assistance with the application process, finding grant money and meeting entrance requirements. “Our goal is to prepare our teenagers for the next phase of their life, whether that means preparing them for employment or furthering their education,” Snyder says.
Kiara, 17, a junior at Balboa High School, feels that her duties at the clubhouse supervising younger members in their activities and helping them with their homework will provide valuable experience in her future career as a psychologist. She sometimes acts as a liaison with the parents of club members. “I love my job,” she says, “but it can often be challenging.” Kiara recalls that one parent threatened to withdraw their child from the club because of poor grades. By working closely with the student to improve her grades, the parent allowed the child to remain in the club. “These kinds of successes keep me going,” Kiara says.
Alyssa, 12, is a seventh grader at Paul Revere Middle School. She has been a member for five years, and her passion is art and ceramics. She hopes to enroll at the School of the Arts High School. “I also love going to sleep-overs at the clubhouse, because it’s just like a slumber party,” she says.
Club members can participate in baseball, football, soccer an basketball. The center also has art and drama clubs. Teen nights provide the opportunity for dancing.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco owns and operates Camp Mendocino, a summer camp set on 200 acres in the redwood forest between Willits and Fort Bragg. “For 10 days kids can enjoy being kids again, and experience nature without the distractions of television and their electronic gadgets,” Snyder says. “They almost always want to return.”
For more information about the Excelsior Youth Center, visit www.kidsclub.org or call (415) 334-2582.