by Bill Thomas
It appears that the shoe fits very well ...
Allen Reese is excited about his new San Clemente role as Chief Professional Officer of the Boys and Girls Club of the South Coast Area. Allen came to California from Pennsylvania five-years-ago. Most recently, he was Director of Development for the San Luis Obispo County Community Action Partnership securing funding for homeless initiatives, senior career and early childhood education programs. Prior to that rich California experience, he worked in the East raising funds as Director of Communications for PathWays PA, heading annual fund appeal programs and special events.
Over the years, Allen has headed a hospital foundation funding activity, the United Way administrative services, was CEO of AIDS Delaware, directed a non-profit incubator, was a Presidential Management Fellow for the Department of Health & Human Services, and spent eight years in community services endeavors for a pharmaceutical company. Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in American History, he also has two master’s degrees, one each in Public Policy and Counseling.
Reese’s broad background and employment in various leadership situations, combined with his great personal interest in kids, recreation, and education have provided him with well-honed skills for his new challenges with the Boys and Girls Club national movement in San Clemente. It has also provided him with hundreds of organizational models throughout the country. As for young person experiences, he’s receiving “off-the-job-training” from his two sons, Thai, 10, and Robert, 9, who are also Club members.
Among his Boys and Girls Club excitements are the school year educational programs, College Bound (education for teens), the Power Hour (homework assistance for elementary and middle school students) as well as the summer learning activities, Brain Gain (education program) and Triple Play (physical recreation).
“College Bound is a great endeavor,” he says. “One of founders of Broadcom, Henry Nicholas, started it in Santa Ana. And it really works.”
The program is primarily aimed at young people who are the first in their families to plan on future college attendance. Through their high school years, they carefully study the many processes of going to college, primarily the preparation, learning the systems of going through the application, filing grades and personal papers, financial aids, school requirements, practical academic studies, career goals, and college and university choices. One has to know what he or she is doing through the entire experience. Many kids have family members who have attended higher educational institutions who can ably assist their children and siblings, but a huge number of Boys and Girls Club members don’t have such assistance. So they need to negotiate the entire process.
The Club has human resources who can act in that capacity: explaining when you’re supposed to apply, what courses you should be taking in preparation, ways to prepare for college entrance examinations, how to write a good, strong personal statement, what colleges are actually going to meet your career needs, and which colleges you’ll feel comfortable attending. Other important questions are also addressed such as: Do you want to attend a small school or a large university? What are your goals in going to college? The Club program starts with kids in the ninth grade as freshmen and works them through their entire high school experiences. This program is followed throughout the school year.
In the summer; the Club runs a program called the Brain Game. According to Allen Reese, this educational adventure grew from a Johns Hopkins study that solidified what a lot of people had suspected for a long time.
Allen said, “Children, particularly, low and middle income kids, lose between four and six weeks a year of specific academic education during the summer months. If you extrapolate that over a twelve year schooling period, you’re losing a full year’s worth of education through the summers because students are not getting stimulated academically .So we provide a finite summer academic curriculum. In the summer, you don’t have kids in the classroom doing what they do during the school year, so we take one hour in the morning and one hour each afternoon, to specifically have the kids learn while they’re having fun. In essence, you change the way you deliver learning.”
Allen further explained a rudimentary example. “You take the kids out on the basketball court and give everyone five turns to make a basket. After the shooting, you ask, ‘Who made all five? Who had four, who has three? Five for five is 100 percent. Who got 100%? Who got 80%?’ The next time they get on the court, we don’t take them to the math class. They tell us what they got in percentages against their competitive friends”
He explained that this was only one method used to reinforce mathematics. Each summer week, a different academic theme will be introduced and presented as a team game. One week it might be engineering, the next physics or history. The goal will be to drop five eggs from the roof in a handmade container without breaking them. The egg drop is performed in small teams of three or four. The team works together designing any type of cushion to prevent the eggs from cracking open.
According to Allen, “you’re learning engineering, you’re tinkering, and you’re studying a process. And you’re working collaboratively in teams without adults telling you what to do. You’re empowering them. You’re having them doing something educational while enjoying themselves. It’s a win-win situation and, at the end of each week, we have a collective presentation, and each one presents what he or she has learned in that week’s fun-learning exercise.”
The Club also has self-directed summer play, individually and in teams, utilizing the gymnasia, the outdoor basketball courts, the computer room, the crafts room, the Teen Center, and other all-purpose spaces. Allen wants to create other exciting and varied programs so that all children are engaged and feel that learning can be exciting and fun.
He said, “And we also want to help kids develop integrated systems. With the values gained along with education, we’re trying to open new doors for kids. We hope that these year-round learning projects can work together in order to develop leaders as well as good citizens who feel they’re a part of a larger community.”
When we dropped into the Teen Center, Athletic Director Matt Clark, like others, a former B&G Club member as a child, was leading a session of close to forty teenagers. He was asking each of the attendees, divided into teams, to spell the word disenfranchise. Several raised their hands immediately, but, sadly, Matt had to tell them they were wrong. Finally, one team member got the spelling right, which everyone wrote in their notebooks and, hopefully, would remember for a lifetime.
Allen told me that teens especially loved the Club because they were challenged and wanted to feel “very independent.” “There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “That’s where they are in life. So we if we can engage them and they come back every day we know we’re doing something right.
I asked if the Club had programs for parents. “No,” said Allen, “our mission is to work with children. There are other local organizations that do a great job in working with families and parents. That’s not our mission.”
He credited the previous director, recently retired Kent Campbell, with doing a tremendous job over the years. He’s also pleased with his 18- member staff and numerous volunteers, and the Club’s Board of Directors.
When our interview ended he said, “I think Boys and Girls Club is an amazing success. It provides the greatest value for a $30 annual fee providing, fun, education, companionship, and breakfast, lunch and snacks during the summer, and it enables young people to drop by and do their homework with a helpful staff. When the Ole Hanson Club opens up soon, we plan on adding plenty of swimming activities. It all adds up to quality time.”b