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During a typical year, the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford serves more than 10,000 youth throughout the City of Hartford. The organization relies on membership and community outreach to provide programs focused on academic enrichment, character and leadership development, and healthy lifestyles.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Boys & Girls Club of Hartford Director of Corporate Engagement Jessica Dolan to learn more about how the community can support the organization through volunteer and partnership opportunities.

NAN PRICE: What opportunities are available for the community to get involved with the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford?

JESSICA DOLAN: A big reason the role I’m in was created was to better engage the community, particularly corporate employees, directly in our work. Traditionally, we have a variety of ways people can be involved, including career fairs, helping provide homework assistance, serving meals to kids, and hosting job shadow or internship opportunities as part of our workforce development efforts, to name a few. That’s been bit challenging in light of COVID-19, but we continue to innovate ways for people to be involved through virtual volunteer opportunities like a pre-recorded book reading or virtual career panels.

Additionally, we have some fundraising initiatives people can support either individually or through sponsorships. For instance, on November 18, we’ll be celebrating our virtual Dashaway Luncheon to benefit our SMART Girls program, a health life stills and empowerment program for girls ages 8 to 18, that helps them develop positive self-esteem and self-confidence. Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney will be our keynote speaker and our SMART Girl of the Year will share her inspiring story. Sponsorships are still available.

We also have an initiative called Men on a Mission that seeks to build a network of men across the region to helps address the unique needs of boys in our Clubs through our Passport to Manhood program, which helps boys ages 8 to 18 learn decision-making, conflict resolution skills, career exploration, and how to build positive relationship with peers and adults.

In addition, we’re looking to expand third-party fundraisers where people or companies raise money on our behalf. For example, we were a beneficiary of the Hartford Athletic Match for a Cause this year, which conducted an online jersey auction and Stanley Black & Decker matched 100% of proceeds, which raised nearly $20,000. These types of fundraising events are a great way for employee resource groups, like young professionals, to build relationships, be creative, and have fun (especially during these challenging times). Things like a corn hole tournament or golf tournaments—with BGCH as the beneficiary—are wonderful.

Lastly, people can help support needs like supply drives or toy drives that are seasonal in nature. With COVID-19 concerns—and the need to ensure kids are sharing supplies less—we have a standing supply list through Amazon. We’re also currently running a holiday toy drive through Amazon and are fortunate to have several companies supporting those efforts but are always looking for more people to be involved. The toy drive is especially important this year, with many Club parents struggling even more than usual to make ends meet during a pandemic.

NAN PRICE: In what other ways has the pandemic affected the organization?

JESSICA: Because of COVID-19, we’ve had to reduce daily in-person capacity and cap the number of kids allowed in our Clubs at any one time. It’s fluctuated a little bit because, some days kids are at home learning and some days they’re in the classrooms. So, we’ve had to rebalance how we look at our membership, but we continue to ensure that we’re serving everyone who wants and needs to be at the clubs.

Additionally, our program team has worked to build out virtual programming, especially for teens. We’ve had to convert some of our fundraising events to virtual formats as well.

The pandemic has also impacted how we interact with the community. For instance, this past summer we would have had Club teens in internships at several area corporations that we weren’t able to secure because nearly all our corporate workforces are working remotely.

However, I think as our families look to rebound from the financial impacts of this pandemic, our Clubs will be more important than ever.

NAN: Does the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford collaborate with other organizations in the area?

JESSICA: We have several partnerships, including a wonderful one with the Hartford Public School system. Not only do we host Clubs in particular schools, but we are now partnering with HPS to provide balanced, nutritious dinners for Club members. Our Asylum Hill Club is also now home to Hope Academy, a new alternative school model through the HPS that serves a cohort of 40 students in need of more individualized academic support.  Additionally, last month, to support our efforts to provide for basic needs for Club families, we received $75,000 from the Stop & Shop Family Foundation to help us create food pantries and enhance snack programs at our three full-service Club locations.

I’ve been with the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford for almost a year in a fairly new role that involves creating and strengthening relationships with existing corporate partners and other groups like the MetroHartford Alliance. Through our involvement with the MetroHartford Alliance, we hope to build an even more meaningful relationship with the business community across the region.

With regard to the community, we’re very grateful for everybody who has contributed and continues to contribute to our organization. Without the support of the community, the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford wouldn’t be able to serve all the youth. Providing them opportunity and hope for the future is key. One of our goals is to ensure that all our teens graduating from high school have a plan for their future. So, it’s important that we tap into our sponsors, community organizations, and partners to help provide a future for our youth.

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Through the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford Ties that Bind Challenge, Men on a Mission members and JT Ghamo presented ties to our Passport to Manhood members. Dressing for success is an element of the program, including teaching young men how to tie a necktie.
The Stop & Shop Family Foundation recently provided funding to the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford to help create food pantries and enhance snack programs