A few days ago I had the opportunity, along with several other SV2 Partners, to meet with three amazing Executive Directors at the Boys and Girls Clubhouse in East Palo Alto. They included the Boys and Girls Club, East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring, and Citizens Schools. I was impressed to see all the programs the Boys and Girls Club offers - tutoring, computer instruction, a "college track" program for high schoolers, field trips to hear interesting, engaging speakers, and even a "music lab" where they can create their own songs. The ED told us that his clubhouse really is the last stop for many kids, because they can't get into or afford other programs. No one is turned away. We talked about how kids don't drop out of school, they drift out of school -- programs like the Boys and Girls Club, Citizen Schools, and East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring make sure that adults are engaged with the kids, asking them about school, encouraging them, providing support so that they don't drift away.
We also talked about the stark challenges some of these kids are facing. A kid can't concentrate in school when he has been up all night because of a shooting on his street. One leader pointed out that the Achievement Gap is caused by the Opportunity Gap, and I've been reflecting on ways we, as funders, might help provide more opportunities to kids who don't have the network of family or friends who can help them get interviews for the best jobs. Some suggestions on how to help were: providing interview training, bringing the students to your work place to give them exposure to different career paths, and volunteering at after-school programs. Another easy suggestion was to help spread the word about the good work that these programs are doing.
As we discussed after the tour, so much of success in these programs depends on good execution, and leadership day in and day out. Many organizations might have great strategies and plans, but the ones that are really making a difference are the ones that are able to turn those plans into reality, regardless of the huge hurdles along the way.