Boys & Girls Clubs believe every child has the potential to BE GREAT. In support of this strong conviction, Clubs strive to build caring, responsible citizens. The Boys & Girls Club family — a community of staff, volunteers, parents, youth and supporters — work together to create a positive place, full of hope and opportunity, for every child.

America is facing a crisis. In 2006, some three-fourths of American students admit they consumed alcohol before graduating high school, and 1.2 million teenagers did not graduate on time — that’s 30 percent of the public high school graduating class. Our young people need our support. Boys & Girls Clubs provide a safe place for youth to get help with homework and learn how to resist peer pressure and the negative influences in their lives. Clubs offer a respite from daily pressures and a fun place to meet friends (from www.begreatamerica.org).

• Nearly one-third of all public high school students — and nearly one half of all African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans — fail to graduate with their class.

• If the students who dropped out of the class of 2008 had graduated, the U.S. economy would have benefited from an additional $319 billion in income over their lifetimes.

The Great Strategy

At the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen, the primary strategy to combat the crisis is the tried and true difference of caring relationships with positive adults whether they are our own youth development professionals or trained community volunteers. The Boys & Girls Club of McAllen is the area’s mentor specialist by providing group mentoring opportunities for youth through at-risk prevention classes and fun and one-on-one mentor matches.

Even the U. S. Department of Education has invested in the strategy by awarding the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen with a school-based and community mentoring grant to help link at-risk youth with caring adults.

I know personally that the strategy works. Ana was a club member throughout her childhood. Everyday after school she could be found at our Brand Center, playing in the gym, doing her homework in the library and teaming up with other kids over fierce foozeball games. At age 10, Ana won our music technology award by composing an original piece of music on the computer music program.

But by the time her hormones hit around age 12, our staff saw a personality change. The happy child was replaced with a rather dark adolescent. Ana began acting out at the club and school. We saw a behavior problem. At first we thought she may just be boy crazy but her behavior problems escalated to the point of causing her to make bad grades. She was failing sixth grade math. We were not about to let Ana get in worse trouble. So, we called on our partner, Sylvan Learning to assist her. They put her through a math boot camp called Ace It - Math. She met one-on-one all summer with one of our staff tutors. She got not only the tutoring she needed at a critical time, she also got the attention she was craving. (Most youth begin having trouble in middle school which is why our mentor program focuses on those troubling middle school years.) By the end of the summer, Ana made up her math credits at school in summer school and was feeling successful.

Around the same time, I became her mentor. I assigned her to help in our office. That way I would see her regularly. We would talk about the boys she was interested in, of course, but we would also talk about how she was coping with family, school and the pains of growing up. We shared a common love of animals and often spoke about her calf and my horse. While we shared common interests, it was the regular ritual of three questions that because central to our friendship.

• What did you do today?

• What did you learn in school today?

• Who did you hang out with?

By showing simple interest in her world, I gained Ana’s trust and slowly shared my own values of education as a priority, connecting with positive people and being of service to others. Ana recently moved to Central Texas, and I miss her, but she left happy and confident. I know that the intervention provided by the Boys & Girls Club made a difference.

Be the Solution

Nationally, over 90 percent of club members graduate, which is a stark contrast to the 50 percent minority dropout rate for Latino and African American students. Ana is only one of those success stories represented in the national statistic. She is great! She overcame! I am a prime example that mentors don’t have to be great — they can be ordinary and do ordinary things with the youth they mentor. All that is required is a little time and willingness to listen to build a bond of trust with a child and share yourself. It’s not preaching values that turn a child’s life around, it is the investment of time that communicate you value them — that makes a difference.

Help Clubs provide this needed support by being an active advocate for youth. Mentor a child. Volunteer with local service organizations. Provide financial resources. Together, we can give young people a chance to succeed. Please visit www.begreatmcallen.org