On May 15, United Boys & Girls Clubs (UBGC) blazed the trail for the return of nonprofit fundraisers by holding its 37th annual Carpinteria Boys & Girls Club Dinner & Auction live at its Carpinteria club. At the jungle-themed Untamed Nights, the 110 guests had to show proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test (or take a rapid onsite test), complete a questionnaire on COVID symptoms, and keep masks on inside, except when eating or drinking.
During the cocktail hour in the courtyard, guests seemed quite comfortable and pleased to have the opportunity to gather once again. Their generosity allowed UBGC to net $120,000 for its after-school programs and summer camp. Some sported jungle-inspired attire, and creative jungle animal decor framed the venue inside and out. Guests could peruse items being offered in an extensive online silent auction and have their photos taken with a green-winged macaw and other birds, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary.
“It was fantastic,” related CEO Michael Baker afterward, to see people in person after having to gather only virtually for so long and, he added, the feedback from guests was tremendous. VP of Advancement Laurie Leis observed that there was a real excitement among guests to see each other again, and “you could feel the love in the air for our kids.” While the crowd was less than a third the usual size, its $120,000 net may be the most the event has ever raised. This feat, according to Board Chair Tony Vallejo, “is a testament to the role the Carpinteria Boys & Girls Club plays in the community and how excited people were to be there.”
In the jungle-themed, spacious gymnasium, a tasty prime rib and salmon dinner from Country Catering was served cafeteria-style. In the short program, Baker and Vallejo led an auction and paddle raise. Former Carpinteria Club director Rich Medel recognized two alumni, Paul Santos Jr. and Alejandra Vargas, for being outstanding club members and volunteers and inducted both into the club’s Hall of Fame.
When COVID struck in March 2020, UBGC had to shutter its after-school programs at its five clubs and two school sites, where it had provided educational programming, tutoring, sports and recreation, and healthy after-school meals for 3,500 kids. It went virtual with some programming and collaborated with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County to turn its clubs into distribution centers, serving more than 110,000 people from mid-March to mid-June. The Downtown Club hosted its Summer Camp, COVID-style.
In August, it reopened with not only an after-school program but also a school-day program. The programs addressed the needs of low-income parents who continued to work in essential services through COVID but could not afford childcare or the computers or internet connectivity that remote learning required. The school districts helped identify particularly needy kids and led to some kids entering the program in October and November who hadn’t been on Zoom for months. There were lots of challenges, related Leis, but the clubs’ dedicated staff rose to meet them. UBGC charged $150/week for the school-day program, but 92 percent of the kids got scholarships thanks to Virgil Elings and the United Way of S.B. County ($600,000 granted).
The after-school program had an emphasis on getting outside and moving after a day on electronic devices. The clubs were creative with socially distant activities. “We used hula hoops a lot,” Leis shared. Gardening at each site was popular. The after-school program was fully underwritten by Paul and Jane Orfalea’s Audacious Foundation. When in-person classes resumed at local schools this spring, these programs were replaced with UBGC’s traditional after-school programming (except for Lompoc because of its limited school day).
To address the learning gap in literacy and math skills created by the pandemic, UBGC has created a three-pronged Back on Track Program. First, with financial support from Virgil Elings, UBGC has relaunched Super Saturdays, which provides tutoring in math and English language arts, fun educational projects in social sciences, sports clinics, and organized games.
Second is Summer Spectacular, a 10-week summer camp offered at all club sites, which this year will have an educational component that includes FRECKLE, a four-subject online educational tool. All the traditional recreational camp activities will also be offered. The cost is $75/week with hundreds of scholarships available.
Third is the Power Hour component of its after-school program, which provides tutoring and FRECKLE.
According to Leis, “We want our kids to feel empowered in their journey through learning … Our staff are here to be a guide, providing them with the tools they need while also making it fun.”
UBGC next event is its Poker Run on June 26 through S.B. wine country, with lunch at a winery. Tickets are $1,000. For more info on UBGC, go to http://unitedbg.org.