The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale’s Red Mountain Branch recently received the prestigious Merit Award for Program Excellence in Health & Life Skills from Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The award was presented during Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s 106th National Conference in San Diego, California in early May.
Merit Awards for Program Excellence, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, are presented annually for outstanding programs developed and implemented in Boys & Girls Clubs across the country to lead youth to a great future.
The Red Mountain Branch received the award based on the Club’s programming provided in collaboration with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Department of Corrections (DOC). The program was created to complement and enhance the overall rehabilitation process in the juvenile corrections facility while helping incarcerated youth develop life skills that will transfer into real-world situations.
In 2003, Brian Yazzie, director of Native American Services at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale, noticed that there was a large group of youth who were consistently being incarcerated and not getting any kind of outside resources to help them move in a more positive direction. “They were just coming in, doing their time, getting out, and immediately returning [to jail],” said James Short of the Boys & Girls Club.
Bringing the Club to the DOC
Yazzie believed that if these kids did not have the chance to become involved in the Boys & Girls Club, then the club could come to them while they were incarcerated. So that is exactly what happened. Six years ago, a Boys & Girls Club was started with the Salt River DOC to help the youth transition after their release into Community programs like the Accelerated Learning Academy.
The Boys & Girls Club inside the DOC started on a part-time basis, with a staff member coming in once a week to work with the youth. But in the beginning the program was not as successful as the staff hoped it would be.
“There was no connection or transition when the staff would come in [for only] half a day, so by 2005 they decided to put a full-time program into the facility,” said Short. “I was an officer at the DOC at that time, and they knew that I had prior Boys & Girls Club experience, so they asked me if it was something I would be interested in.”
Since the Boys & Girls Club program at DOC began six years ago, the number of youth arrests and incarcerations has been decreasing, while the graduation rates have been going up.
“Since 2007 there has been a big difference in the youth that are coming in and being released. A lot of the kids are now transitioning out into the Accelerated Learning Academy program and graduating [from] high school,” Short said.
Short explained that a lot of the youth being released from the DOC attend the teen center at the Accelerated Learning Academy to go to school and catch up on their credits. “This continues to [strengthen] the relationship we have with them and help them even more.”
Teaching Health and Life Skills
The Merit Award for Program Excellence comes with a $2,000 award. Each year, hundreds of entries are submitted in the five core program areas of the Boys & Girls Club: character and leadership development; education and career development; health and life skills; the arts; and sports, fitness and recreation.
“Instead of the youth going outside and just rolling a basketball during their hour of recreation time, we actually have them working on weightlifting, running and nutrition,” said Short. “It’s a true physical fitness class, and we will see a difference in the kids. Especially the ones who have to do a couple of months [of incarceration time; they] lose 20 to 30 pounds, and that makes them feel better.”
The youth are also learning life skills and tools while they are in the DOC, including how to save their money from the per capita, tax information and how to sit down and get through an interview or apply for jobs.
A First for Indian Country
“We actually applied for the Merit Award a couple of times, and this year we finally received it,” said Short. “There were many submissions, and it’s a big honor and a big deal for us here in the DOC. We were the first and still are the only ones in Indian Country doing something like this inside a correctional facility.”
In fact, the Boys & Girls Club staff from the DOC has conducted training workshops for other tribes to institute a similar program inside their facilities. “The word is getting out because we are successful,” Short said.
Most state correctional facilities do not allow outside entities into their facilities, Short added, “but when they see the numbers and the relationship we have with the youth [in this program], then [they are convinced that the program can be a success.]
“We have a great relationship with the SRPMIC Social Services, DOC and Probation, and Education departments,” said Short.
The DOC does not pay anything out of pocket for this program; the Boys & Girls Club brings in the curriculum and staff. Short said, “The way it is set up here is that the teachers get to teach and the [correctional] officers get to be officers. Trained professionals implement the curriculum.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Native American communities working together to serve youth. Today, more than 200 Clubs are on Native American lands. In addition to the Red Mountain branch, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale also has the Lehi Branch on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, along with the Peach Springs Branch on the Hualapai Reservation.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale provides 16,000 Valley children and teenagers with a positive, supervised and fun environment to explore the power of their potential. For more information, visit www.bgcs.org.