Don't Call it a Comeback: Teen Programs at the Club

Since 1946, Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland (BGCP) has been dedicated to serving youth across the metro area. Programming across the area and age groups thrived tremendously. However, the recession in 2007 began to impact BGCP significantly, and particularly in their teen services. Staff who work in teen services today have cited various reasons as to how the recession impacted teen programming.


One reason mentioned was that nonprofits, in general, took a large hit in access to funding. The amount of charitable giving as well as grant funding dwindled significantly during the recession. That loss of funding greatly impacted Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA), and caused BGCP to shrink the number of full-time staff. During the time, teen programs were generally misunderstood so the decrease in full-time staff really affected them nationally. National teen attendance dropped. Inconsistent staffing made it difficult to maintain teen programming. Additionally, it became difficult for teens to forge those needed bonds with regular staff to encourage attendance.

Program Capacity

Another reason, also tied to the lack of funding, was that there were no strong programs offered to teens. Stakeholders and possible donors often require organizations to share measurable outcomes as a result of a specific program. However, this is difficult to do when there is so little capacity allotted to execute teen programming. Thus ensued a cycle of not being able to secure funding for teen programs without anything already in place.


Youth of the Year 2018 candidates, photo credit to Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland

Youth of the Year 2018 candidates, photo credit to Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland

Today, the organization is working on building strong and consistent teen programs with Director of Teen Services, Matthew Heady, at the helm. Although teen membership is still a struggle, Teen Services is creating programming to get and keep teens engaged. Some of the programs locally offered include a junior leadership development program called L.I.T., a workforce development program called YouthForce, and a computer coding academy, FutureTech. These have all become popular among teen members, as programs shift to meeting the direct needs of young people today. With their vision for the growth of teen programs, Teen Services estimates a 50% increase (approx. 486.5) of teen annual membership for the 2017/2018 year.

Youth of the Year, the teen leadership and recognition program that I am working during my fellowship, serves as a great example of work to building more teen engagement and participation. A national BGCA program, Youth of the Year serves to recognize and celebrate accomplished young people in communities across the United States and military bases. The work I am involved with includes helping to establish different ways to encourage engagement, participation and interest from our Club teens as a way to give teens a sense of ownership and pride in their accomplishments. Long term, we aim for it to serve as a catalyst to draw more teens to being engaged with the supportive programs offered locally.

On Wednesday, November 8th, 2018, Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland will honor their Portland-Metro Youth of the Year candidates and select a finalist to represent the organization at the Oregon State Youth of the Year competition this spring.