Youth & Economics in North Lake Tahoe

I arrived on campus for my first day on the job working with Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe (BGCNLT); the Club is attached to a local elementary school in Kings Beach, California. I got out of the car and looked around – standing in front of me, I saw a sea of blue and white.

 “Uniforms?” I asked myself.

Traditionally, Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide are set up to address immediate needs of youth in a communities that are underrepresented and underserved. This often means that Clubs are located in financially unstable or economically-suffering areas.

 Youth learned to fold multi-colored origami tigers with Marisa

Youth learned to fold multi-colored origami tigers with Marisa

Growing up, I attended both private and public elementary schools in California so, of course, I knew the difference between the two – one wore uniforms and one did not. Private schools are also typically associated with families who earn higher incomes because there are much greater costs of attendance. Simple, right? Maybe not...

In the moments that I entered this Boys & Girls Club school site, all of these contrasting ideas were running through my head, and nothing added up to me. Why were the kids wearing uniforms? Why was this Boys & Girls Club located at a private school?

I found myself talking with some of the staff at the Club and, after a few moments, I popped the question that had been eating at me since I first arrived.

“No, this is a public school." Instant confusion.

However, the exchanges that followed this brought light to the work that Boys & Girls Clubs do and their true potential to directly impact a community at risk.

 Club members participating in Sailing Camp

Club members participating in Sailing Camp

 Weekly beach trips to Lake Tahoe's shores

Weekly beach trips to Lake Tahoe's shores

When most people envision North Lake Tahoe, what might initially come to mind is woodsy, mansion-sized vacation homes or high-end ski resorts that cost hundreds of dollars for a single day pass. What people don’t envision is a large population of locals who live in subsidized housing, work more than one low-wage job, or struggle to keep their family of 6 afloat. The reality is that the latter scenario makes up the majority of the year-round residents in North Lake Tahoe; these are the people who form the North Lake Tahoe community.  

“The largest share of households in Kings Beach, California have an [annual] income of $10-$15k” (US Census Bureau).

What I learned through my conversations with Club staff was that the public elementary school the Club operated out of used uniform policies as a way to combat the visually-evident and growing income inequality in the Kings Beach community. My work at BGCNLT allowed me to see first-hand how important it is to acknowledge where inequalities exist, and what we all can do to help foster youth education and youth lifestyles that are free of inequalities.

Through my fellowship, I organized a group of 22 Club members to participate in the 2016 Kids Adventure Games at Squaw Valley.

The Kids Adventure Games is a unique adventure-style challenge for children aged 6-14 designed to foster skills for teamwork and youth leadership, encourage healthy lifestyles and physical activity, and appreciation of The environment.

Future Leaders in Action sponsored BGCNLT members’ participation in the Games as a way to help give opportunities to children who might not otherwise be financially capable of participating.

After the Games, many children expressed to me that it was the most fun event they had ever done, and couldn’t believe they were able to do it! The Kids Adventure Games is a true physical challenge, and all of the participants were extremely proud of themselves for being able to finish. All of the children emphasized that the Kids Adventure Games taught them most about teamwork, defined by the kids as “helping each other out and working together.”

It was amazing for me to be a small part of creating and cultivating positive youth experiences for a community in need. Many of the parents expressed their gratitude and emphasized their appreciation for FLIA’s sponsorship and their children’s opportunity to participate in something so unique and exciting.

In addition to organizing BGCNLT participation in the Kids Adventure Games, I worked part-time onsite at the Club in their afterschool and summer programs. Through this, I was able to foster relationships with children apart from those who participated in the Games. These experiences enlightened me on youth development, and reinforced my belief in the need to promote community engagement.

I am an incoming senior at the University of California, Berkeley where I am studying Global Development and Public Policy. In my major, we talk a lot about change – change at the global level, the national level, at the local level, and how all of these are interrelated. Through my involvement at Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, this fellowship has allowed me to directly experience the ways in which change can happen before your eyes - a version of change that I was unable to comprehend through solely studying theories and analyzing its different manifestations.