In one of her last ceremonial acts as Santa Barbara mayor, Helene Schneider stepped down from the City Council dais to meet, greet, and congratulate about 65 young kids from the Westside’s Boys & Girls Club for qualifying for “Gold Card” memberships, meaning they’d attended at least 105 hours of after-school care this year. “Yes; great; congratulations; fantastic,” the mayor said to a sea of small squirming, twisting kids, many wearing bright-red sweatshirts. “There you are; shwew,” she added. Schneider read aloud the name of each child; each child went home with a commemorative proclamation recognizing their 105-hour achievement.
Research shows 105 hours is the amount needed to double a child’s chances of graduating from high school on time, said Boys & Girls Club czar Michael Baker. Baker enlists local politicos to help drive home the atta-boy point of the Gold Card — as opposed to the red one they get when signing up. The Westside Boys & Girls Club, long the source of much collective angst because of its proximity to Bohnett Park — popular with neighborhood gangs — and chronic financial woes, appears to be on the upswing. Baker credits Priscilla Hernandez for the turnaround. Hernandez runs the Westside center, and with three years under her belt, she brings some much-needed stability to the post. Under her administration, daily attendance has tripled and hours of operation have increased.
For the first time in 18 years, the center is now open Saturdays. And activities are much more programmed than before. Kids aren’t allowed to just show up and hang out. The biggest bump in attendance, Hernandez said, was with younger kids, those from K-3. Another big draw is the food truck that shows up courtesy of the Santa Barbara school district, providing free dinners to the kids or selling the meals to parents for only $4.