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The Boys and Girls Club of Las Cruces (BGCLC), served more than 1,500 young people in 2020, amassing some impressive statistics despite the pandemic, and CEO Ashley Echavarria wants to do even more going forward.
Serving meals, helping with homework and providing a wide range of activities for all ages, the club had a total membership of 209 in 2020, but also served an additional 1,308 clients through other programs and services both on and off site. That was despite being closed for four months during the year because of COVID-19.
BGCLC served almost 14,000 suppers and nearly 10,000 snacks in 2020, and has distributed nearly 2,000 of its very popular BGCLC Club on-the-go kits, created during the pandemic to help keep kids busy at home, with another 552 kits distributed through Cruces Creatives.
The club, located at 330 W. Las Cruces Ave., re-opened Sept. 1 and has been open 10 hours a day, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, ever since, Echevarria said. The major expansion from the previous four-hours-a-day after-school programming was necessary to help families deal with the pandemic when schools were closed, she said.
Since re-opening, deep cleaning and following public health orders has been a priority for staff and clients at the club. To date, only one child served by the club has come down with COVID-19, she said, along with a handful of staff members. The club’s front gate is kept locked and entry is allowed only after a temperature check, she said. Masks and social distancing are required and the club has a daily cleaning regimen and “hand sanitizers are everywhere,” Echavarria said.
“I think our protocols have been proven to work,” said. “It’s what we have to do. We take it very seriously.”
The four months without any kids on site were difficult for Echavarria and her staff, she said. And, it’s been hard since then because the numbers have been kept low by state public health orders. The club welcomed 100 or more kids a day during the school year before the pandemic and is temporarily serving 20-30 a day, Echavarria said. It will continue to expand safely, she said, providing transportation to the club from more schools throughout the Las Cruces Public Schools district. It also works closely with Lynn Middle School as part of the community schools program.
“Our mission is to serve the kids. They need us,” she said. “It’s a struggle on my conscience not to be doing more for the community.”
The club didn’t waste any time during the shutdown, however. In addition to a lot of staff training time and providing virtual programming for children on social media, BGCLC began curbside evening meal distribution in April. That’s when staff came up with the Club on-the-go kits, which are handed out with meals and include seven different activities, recipes, snacks and more. (One activity gives instructions on how to make a cool fishtail bracelet with 35 rubber bands and C clip. That same kit also had a recipe for “Valentine’s Day slime.)
The kits have become so popular that people who had been coming by for meals are now stopping in just to pick up the kits, Echavarria said.
“I’m proud of my team,” she said. “They put their heads together and made things happen. We had to find a way to continue to serve our clients.”
The club has total staff of 20, including many college students, Echavarria said, and had no layoffs because of COVID-19.
“It’s so refreshing to hear laughter in the building again,” Echavarria said, as the staff transitions to serving about 50 clients a day. “It’s incredible to get phone calls from kids we haven’t seen in a year, telling us they’re coming back when school starts.”
“The community really stepped up … to ensure we were able to continue serving,” she said. Comcast, for example, helped with the installation of Wi-Fi at the club.
“That has been so huge for us,” Echavarria said.
Lowe’s Home Improvement has helped with renovations, and the Paseo del Norte Foundation helped expand programming for teens. There have been many other partnerships as well, she said, including with LCPS, the City of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County.
“Our support grows every year,” Echavarria said.
Echavarria joined BGCLC in August 2013. A club kid herself, she has worked for Boys and Girls Clubs in Carlsbad (where she grew up), Sedona, Arizona, and Brazos Valley, Texas.
“I knew from a young age this is what I wanted to do as a career,” she said.
BGCLC is unable to hold any of its major annual fundraisers, including the Lou and Mary Henson Community Breakfast, for the second year in a row because of COVID-19. With expanded hours since Sept. 1, its biggest expense continues to be operations.
Echavarria said BGCLC welcomes donations of office supplies, school supplies, arts and crafts materials and sports equipment. Cash donations are also welcome, she said. The club will need to raise $7,000-$10,000 to replace one of its refrigerated air conditioner units this summer, she said.
Assistance with other building maintenance would also be welcome, Echavarria said. BGCLC is housed in a building that is likely more than 100 years old, she said. It paid off the property in 2013 but continues with renovations and repairs.
“We’ve been able to do so much,” she said. “We want to do more.”
For information about BGCLC spring and summer 2021 programming, visit www.bgclascruces.org/reopening-during-covid-19-pandemic.
Contact Echavarria at 575-526-1519 and email@example.com.
and find the Boys and Girls Club of Las Cruces on Facebook @BGCLasCruces.