MALIBU, Calif. – In 16 years with the Boys and Girls Club of Malibu, Executive Director Kasey Earnest has become pretty savvy at the art of adaptation.
And while a global pandemic is something she and her team never could've anticipated, their experience with the Woolsey fire last year has uniquely prepared them to shift focus.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately having gone through the experience of a wildfire did prepare us to be able to pivot our programs and services," she explained.
In the last six months, the club and many others throughout L.A. County have pivoted to become a place of refuge for young kids, teens, and their families. Boys and Girls Clubs have transitioned to become food pantries, help with child care needs, and provide the mental health support and counseling services Earnest says is needed now more than ever.
“We want to maintain that as part of our ability to take away the stigma surrounding mental health services," she said. "We see it as a right.“
Because in this environment, many kids and teens are dealing with a slew of new stressors and anxieties.
Take it from the Garcia family.
With both 19-year-old Josue and 15-year-old Jordi both back at home and in school online, Josue says the weeks have felt like a never-ending cycle.
“It was just another boring day," he said. "Wake up, go to school online, type, type, eat lunch, you can’t go out because of the pandemic, just type, type, and school work.”
He and his brother have been involved with their local Boys and Girls Club since the sixth grade. Taking advantage of their wellness center has become especially important this year.
“There were days I just felt sad for various [reasons] and sometimes it’s so hard to hold that pain in," Josue said. "Just by letting go, I talked to somebody in the wellness center and it really helped me to cope.”
Although in some cases, they may not be able to meet in person, jumping on a phone call or a Zoom meeting has been enough.
“Especially times like this, mental health is gonna be a challenge because you’re so trapped inside, your life hit at an instant," he said.
And while every Boys and Girls Club doesn't have a physical wellness center, like the club in Malibu, they are all offering free support and programming that Josue and Earnest say families shouldn't be afraid to take advantage of.
“I would say go talk to somebody, if you feel down go talk to somebody," Josue said. "They're there for you."
“It’s really gonna be about how we can work together to meet the needs of kids," Earnest explained. "Because I believe the affects of this pandemic are going to be with us for years to come."
Their ultimate hope to open up a conversation that can provide much-needed connection during a time of extreme social isolation.