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'It will cost us $1.5 million': Local United Boys & Girls Clubs grapple with branch reopenings amid COVID-19 pandemic
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'It will cost us $1.5 million': Local United Boys & Girls Clubs grapple with branch reopenings amid COVID-19 pandemic

Nine of 10 United Boys & Girls Clubs sites in Santa Barbara County remain closed due to a financial slowdown caused by COVID-19 that has forced cancellation of fundraising events that support daily operations of the nonprofit agency. 

Fully reactivating all 10 sites for youth programs — including North County locations in Buellton/ Solvang and Lompoc — isn't financially feasible at this time, according to Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Michael Baker. 

“It will cost us $1.5 million to open all [of] our clubs from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, and fill them to capacity under the new COVID-19 standards,” Baker said, referring to the strict safety measures, including social distancing protocol, which were put in place by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. "The challenge we're running into is not being able to do the fundraising we normally do. Even Camp Whittier is closed and that's usually a major fund generator for us."

As of July 6, the Boys & Girls Clubs has reopened no North County sites, and one of its South County sites — downtown Santa Barbara — with restrictions.

In preparation for reopening South County clubs, Baker said all employees in the organization participated in a two-week health training. 

“We wanted to make sure that we were able to operate our clubs in a manner that made the safety of our club members and staff priority No. 1,” he said, noting that club directors are now leading smaller groups of 10 in order to maximize safety measures. 

Thirty-nine children and teens are currently being served at the downtown Santa Barbara club as part of their summer program. This number is up from the 17 who attended the first week. 

Offsite academic programs

Moving into the academic school year, the Boys & Girls Clubs will roll out their A.S.E.S. program on Aug. 17 — After School Education & Safety — which under normal circumstances is an afterschool program. The state-funded program will offer youth three full days — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — of homework help, team building, sports and fitness, arts and crafts, and daily nutritional snacks.

In collaboration with Lompoc Unified School District, Baker said they will host this programming at offsite locations only, Fillmore Elementary and Hapgood Elementary in Lompoc, which will save the organization and its members money. The cost is $75 per week and program scholarships are limited due to funding. 

Boys & Girls Clubs will also run a full-time program, Monday through Friday, at Solvang Elementary School and Maple High School in Lompoc for teachers and other essential workers who have children and must work. State regulations permitting, the programs are expected before Aug. 24, Baker said.

However, given that County health has limited the number of children facilities can now accommodate, all club programs are restricted to a 14 to 1, child-to-caretaker ratio. This reduces the clubs' services by nearly half, Baker said, noting Lompoc's pre-COVID-19 member numbers were 160, versus 70 now.

"We're meeting the standards and not deviating from that," he said. "Public health has to sign off on everything we do."

During each drop-off, guardians must answer a number of health questions, and children and teens must have their temperatures checked and recorded. 

Hand-washing is required before children and teens gain entrance to the club, and masks are required by both children and staff. 

Upon pickup, each child is required to have their temperature retaken and recorded before leaving campus. 

Baker explained Buellton/ Solvang club director Chelsea Lincoln and Lompoc club director De’Vika Stalling, along with staff, trained 2 1/2 weeks at the downtown Santa Barbara location before returning to their respective cities to implement the safety measures at their offsite locations in preparation for A.S.E.S programming. 

"This is all a day-by-day thing," he said. "These are unprecedented times."

Plans to reopen

Reopening additional club sites will begin with the Lompoc branch, Baker said, despite funding troubles. A definitive date is undetermined.

The Boys & Girls Clubs is banking on word of mouth to bring in large donations, and Baker says his duty of community outreach has, more than ever, become a daily pursuit. 

"My job isn't done until we open all of our clubs and serve all of the kids that need us," he said. "I don't sleep at night."

His main concern, he said, is unreported child abuse. 

"It may seem that child abuse numbers are down lately," Baker said, "but reporting comes from kids' schools, clubs and sports. These kids are now at home, and parents don't report themselves. That's why we've got to get our clubs open."

To learn more about United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County or to donate, visit www.unitedbg.org or call 805-681-1315. 

Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News. 

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