How the Boys & Girls Clubs of Permian Basin is changing lives and communities through critical programs and access to technology
by Jessica Denson, Communications Director
Midland, TX (December 19, 2019) – Yovanna Garza is an energetic, talkative 11-year-old. She’s in the fifth grade at Henderson Elementary School in Midland, Texas, and has been going to the Taylor Park Boys & Girls Club since she was 6 years old.
“It’s really fun. I actually do talk about the Boys and Girls Club a lot when I’m at school,” said Garza. “Sometimes we go to the gym at school, and once I asked everyone if they wanted to play foursquare. No one knew what that was. I was like, ‘y’all don’t know what four square is!’ I taught them how to play after learning it here.”
Boys & Girls Clubs offer after-school and summer programs including free meals, teen nights, recreational sports, and more at more-affordable costs (see box) than many other similar programs—helping some of the most underserved and low-income communities across the country. Because of its affordability, Garza’s 9-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother also are able to take part in the programs at the Taylor Park Club facility.
The Club, as the kids and those who work there refer to it, is often the last or only option for families in many disadvantaged areas—providing, among other opportunities, reading programs, field trips, organized sports, arts and crafts, and access to computers for homework.
“I would use the computers a lot last year because I had a Google classroom,” Garza explained. “I don’t have a computer at home, so I used the computers here to do my assignments and homework.”
Kids from 6 to 18 years old are able to access the programs and resources offered at the Clubs, even if their parents cannot afford the $20-a-month rate. It’s not uncommon for them to use the computer labs when needed, but David Chancellor, Executive Director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Permian Basin in west Texas, says one of the most effective uses of technology and the internet at the Clubs is through Stride Academy—a reading program.
The Permian Basin Boys & Girls Clubs have a total of 100 computers for the kids, with each of the five facilities getting 20.
“We used to have a broad education program, but we found out kids couldn’t even read at their grade level,” said Chancellor. “So we backed up, rethought things, and were like they have to read. We need to help them read.”
The Stride Academy Software Program encourages kids to do just that through online challenges. Children have to read a chapter and complete the challenges that are often like games, so learning is more interactive and fun.
“Not all of our kids even have access to the internet and computers at home. That’s one challenge,” said Michael Jasso, Director, Taylor Park Club. “But then we also began to see that even though other kids had iPads or cell phones, they were lacking the basic ability to read. So, with Stride, the kids have to read questions and complete challenges. We do different contests to encourage them.
For instance, the top 10 kids might get a pizza party or spend a Saturday on a field trip.
“Having access to that online reading program is very important—especially in the summertime when there’s that gap where kids aren’t reading in school, which means they can easily lose what they’ve learned—setting them back,” Jasso said.
It’s working. Right now, according to Chancellor, out of the 921 kids in the program, 77 percent read at or above grade level.“We are talking about a demographic that’s usually expected to hit just 30 percent,” said Chancellor. “All of us can do better for all children. We have learned that the key is just to get kids to read. You do not have to have reading experts, but you have to have experts on how to get kids to read on their own—part of that is incentivizing the work so it becomes fun to learn.”
Garza agrees. She has been able to take part in the reading program for years.
“I used to do the Stride Academy, and now I help some of the younger kids,” she said “I also take part in the reading Olympics. I do it every year and I love it so much. We get to read, and I got to take home my favorite book called ‘The Hatchet.’ We get the book once we read it.”
Although she likes the reading program, Garza’s favorite part of the Club is the game room and helping Jasso handle different projects at the Taylor Park facility.
“I want to work here someday,” she said.
“We might hire you,” Chancellor interjected with a laugh before Garza continued, also giggling.
“I would love to work at the Club. I really like working the front desk, and I like the concession stand. I like doing the arts and crafts, and sometimes the lady who does the crafts goes into the movie room and I get to make popcorn,” she said in a flurry.
Talking to Garza, it’s clear she has genuine respect and love for Chancellor and Jasso. The director credits that to how they approach working with and supporting the kids and teenagers who take part in the Boys & Girls Clubs’ programs.
“I think a sense of consistency for the kids is so important,” said Jasso. “They know we will be here every day. They know we will always be here for them. I relate to that and have experienced it myself. I used to come here when I was little. It’s probably the sense of belonging that I felt here that made me want to return.”
Jasso was asked to work as junior staff member and given responsibilities, which he says made him feel like he mattered and was part of and contributing to something important.
“We still do that in multiple ways so both the younger kids and teens can learn new skills and take part,” he added. “For example, teenagers fill out an application form if they want run concession stand.”
It’s not uncommon for adults who were once kids taking part in programs at the Boys & Girls Club to return to visit with staff, volunteer, or work. Chancellor is one such person. He not only attended the Club as a child but his father, Cam Chancellor, was on the board that founded the Permian Basin chapter in 1958.
“I’ve been here as Executive Director for more than 10 years, but I was playing at the club when I was just 5, and that was 50 years ago,” he said with a laugh. “My brother’s first job was at the Boys and Girls Club. Back then it was just called the Boys Club. It was a little rougher with boxing, power tools, that kind of thing, then we opened things up to the girls and it shifted a little more toward education as well as the recreational side.”
Chancellor believes his dad is proud that he’s continued this important work, and that his background and experience has equipped him to manage the Permian Basin facilities.
“I was an Army officer for nine years and worked in military intelligence, then I served as a Lutheran pastor in churches across Texas for 13 years,” he explained. “It turned out to be a good blend because I use things I learned about leadership and discipline—all with some love thrown in—that help me guide and manage our facilities and ensure we strive for excellence through our programs for all the kids.”
Those programs include Girlstrong, which teaches young girls how to navigate everything from social media to preventing abduction; Passport to Manhood, for the young boys at the Club; and Smart Moves, which helps kids learn how to make wise decisions in life.
But it’s not just about the programs and resources offered by the Boys & Girls Clubs. Chancellor says the focus also is on building close and long-lasting relationships.
“Our ultimate goal is not just to educate children, but we want to be part of their lives and we want to help them become good citizens, learn good decision-making skills, understand how to build meaningful relationships, live healthy lives, and know how to take part in their communities—giving back and growing into productive, happy adults.”
Jasso invites you to come see for yourself just how important that approach is in kids’ lives.
“Come by and take a tour of our Club. It’s controlled chaos. There are kids everywhere—some are doing arts and crafts, some are in the computer lab, some are doing homework, some are getting fed. It’s all so very important for the community. Come by and see how we run it and see the impact it’s having—just come by and talk to the kids.”
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