In a wide-ranging and lively discussion at the Boys & Girls Club of America (BGCA) National Keystone Conference on March 12, 2010, more than a dozen young people offered their perspectives on the challenges they face, how the Clubs help them meet those challenges, and the need for additional resources in their communities. Participants in the discussion included Jeff Slowikowski, OJJDP's Acting Administrator, and Kevin McCartney, BGCA's Senior Vice President of Government Relations.
Many Boys & Girls Clubs are open every day, after school and on weekends, when youth typically have free time and need positive, productive outlets. Every Club has full-time, trained youth development professionals and volunteers, who serve as role models and mentors. The adults at the Clubs are "always there with support and encouragement," said one teenager.
One focus of the discussion was the lure of gang life and the difficulty of leaving a gang once youth have joined. Young people are frightened to leave a gang because "they don't know anything else outside of gang life," said one teenager. "The gang is their family," said another. Others cited the lack of meaningful alternatives because many gang members have either dropped out of school or are no longer engaged in school.
Included among the participants' suggestions to improve their communities were increasing the safety of parks and play areas, opportunities to learn about college or to train for a job, family-oriented programs to improve parent-child relationships, interaction with law enforcement through sports leagues and clinics, and HIV/AIDS-prevention programs.