We’re recognizing those among us who drive lasting impact, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico (BGCPR), one of our Casa Herbalife Nutrition partner organizations, is truly impressive:
1. What does BGCPR principally set out to achieve each day through its work? Since its inception in 1967, BGCPR has changed the lives of more than 65,000 children and youth from the most vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico. Guided by its mission of providing children and youth hope for a better future and the opportunity to develop their full potential, the organization provides participants with a creative and safe place to develop as leaders and reach their academic, professional, and personal goals. The organization has taken the lead in after-school services for children and youth ages 6 through 18 years old in 12 Clubs across the island from San Juan to Mayagüez and Vieques.
2. What would you say is BGCPR’s most impressive accomplishment over the past year? On the morning of January 7, 2020, Puerto Rico was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake with aftershocks that are still felt today. Public schools were closed due to structural damage and then COVID-19 hit. Our children have lost a year and a half of formal education. If you sum that with the school year lost after Hurricane Maria (September 20, 2017), where our children and youth lost between 78 and 92 days of class, you’re talking about almost three years of formal education lost. The devastation left behind by the hurricanes lifted the veil that had covered systemic child poverty for decades.
As soon as the lockdown started we knew we had to pivot to a virtual module and we had to act FAST! Our first move was to compile dozens of resources, now available online on our website at bgcpr.org/educateencasa. We then started creating our own content, designing virtual cycles where participants went through structured activities just like they do when they are at the tutor’s table at the club. The sessions were designed to address emotional safety and wellbeing and to mitigate sustained losses in learning. Activities included STEM, art, leadership workshops, career days, and more.
Our Food Program was also key. During the COVID-19 quarantine, all of our 11 Clubs carried on and adapted the food program, incorporating safety measures to avoid COVID infection. Clubs like Isabela and Las Margaritas received over 150 people daily. We also included other food distributing initiatives that provided groceries and safety materials (PPE) to our families.
3. What strategies did you take to transform this idea (mentioned above) into action? As soon as COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we executed a community-based needs assessment to best support our communities featuring 331 family participants who lived in the communities around our Clubs. The following results provided us the data needed to develop strategic programs and services to address the current needs of our participants during the pandemic:
• 53% of families indicated they had a restricted budget to cover expenses during the pandemic.
• 48% of households experienced job loss after COVID-19
• 37% of families had a lack of consistent access to adequate food.
• 36% of families reported at least one member in their household has presented a negative mood, anxiety, or emotional instability due to the pandemic
• 33% of families experienced difficulty covering housing-related expenses (rent, mortgage, electricity, water).
• 83% of families had internet access only through cell phones, with very limited connectivity.
4. How does funding from HNF help advance BGCPR’s goals? Families had no work and therefore no money to buy food. Schools were closed and for families and children that count on meals provided by the school cafeteria, it was tragic. Funding from Herbalife Nutrition Foundation gave us the opportunity to continue providing hot meals to over 1,500 children, through 11 Club sites, every single day. We knew that often this would be the only hot meal the children would have in a day. For many, having the opportunity to continue the food program during the pandemic, was lifesaving. We at BGCPR are extremely grateful to HNF for the support!
5. What steps is BGCPR taking to reach people with the most need? All our Clubs are either inside public housing developments or surrounded by them. 90% of all children served live in poverty. The people in most need are exactly the people we serve. We aim to contribute towards mitigating poverty through a direct service module.
6. Which of your current programs would you say is the most popular and why? The education program is certainly one of the most important. 99% of the children that participate in the education program graduate from high school and 86% continue on to post-secondary studies. Most of them are among the first generation to reach that milestone.
7. Do you see your work changing after the COVID-19 pandemic wanes? How so? Yes, certainly! Covid has proven that the Club has no walls. We can serve even more children through virtual programs. In-person programs and services are crucial for the communities we serve, but if we add the virtual factor we can have a broader impact.