Christina Singh, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sheboygan County, was just beginning to make meaningful changes in the organization when the pandemic hit. Now nearly two years into her tenure, the 2020 Insight Women of Influence in the New North Region honoree reflects on how the nonprofit moved quickly to respond to increased needs for its services, which it also has to provide in new ways. Under Singh’s leadership, the organization has secured pay increases for its part-time workers, opened two new sites to serve more children and advocated for race equity.
Talk about some of your accomplishments over the past two years.
Christina Singh: I’m really proud to say that we increased the average pay for our part-time people by 20 percent. I’ve seen (our employees) expand in their roles as educators, as people who address trauma with kids. They’re doing this really specialized work now and it’s incredible to see how they have adapted and stepped up for our kids. They deserve compensation that recognizes that, so I’m proud of what we have accomplished so far, but there’s more to come. We also opened two new sites. One we opened in the midst of the pandemic, which really speaks to how incredible our team is. It was an opportunity to reach a group of kids who needed us and we didn’t want to let that opportunity pass.
How has the pandemic affected your organization and the way you deliver services?
We really were put in the position to have to innovate our services at a moment’s notice in order to continue meeting the kids’ needs. We had been relying on kids to come through our doors in order to serve them. For a short period of time, they couldn’t and so we ended up creating virtual programs.
We were delivering meals. We made activity kits for the kids. We were doing well-being check-ins for the kids that we would do either from porches or on virtual sessions.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Sheboygan County has been delivering on its mission for 26 years with a certain model. Essentially, in a matter of weeks, we completely retooled that and developed something that was meaningful and needed in the community. That was a challenge that I think we rose to. Since last summer, we’ve been up and running. We really have an enhanced focus on food insecurity, on learning loss and on physical and emotional well-being. This past November, when our biggest school district went virtual for what ended up being three months, we created this academic support program where we opened our doors for 10 hours a day. I think we’ve proven that the Boys & Girls Club will be there for kids, no matter what happens in schools, the community, in the environment around them.
What are some of the struggles kids are facing as a result of the pandemic?
At its most acute level, the pandemic isolated kids in really dangerous home environments. That’s been one of the most challenging things, that without teachers or without staff at the club, there are fewer chances that cases of abuse and neglect will be reported. I think the connection that we try to keep is so important, regardless of if kids are with us or not — that we are checking in on them, that we are offering up opportunities just to chat.
I think at the end of the day, kids are really resilient. They’re going to catch up in school. We offer some really amazing academic programs to help them do just that. In order for those programs to be effective, kids have to have their basic needs met. That’s one of the things we work so hard to do, is making sure kids have those basic needs being met. They need to feel safe. They need to feel loved. They need to be well-nourished. When those things are in place, kids will learn.
Does the business community see the role you play and support you?
We have received really important support from businesses in the community (like Kohler Co.) recognizing the services we were providing, especially when schools closed. We’re helping people work in manufacturing facilities, we’re helping to keep parents and guardians employed, and we’re delivering these great outcome-based programs for their kids while they’re at work. There’s definitely recognition of that and support from some organizations in the community that was pivotal for us in being able to respond with programs.
Race equity work is important to you both as an individual and an organization. What have been some of your efforts on that front?
The mission of our club, our actual mission statement, is to inspire and enable all youth, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. The truth is, we can’t deliver on that mission without recognizing and fighting inequities. We first and foremost acknowledge and address the disproportionate challenges faced by some of the young people we serve, specifically Black, Brown and Indigenous people who are disproportionately affected by economic and health disparities, incarceration rates and in some cases death at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them. The clubs show up for these kids, the Black, Brown and Indigenous kids who fight for their lives, but also for the white youth who might perpetuate racism without education and intervention.
We are, at our core, about delivering equitable opportunities in safe spaces with inclusive programming. We also have to (do our work) with an equity lens. We help eliminate learning barriers for everyone, but there are different barriers for different groups of kids, and we have to recognize that. It’s not about treating everyone equally. It’s about meeting the unique needs of kids or groups of kids.
What are you working on for the future?
Studies show that Boys & Girls Clubs in general increase the earning power of youth and their parents or their guardians, which is a major contributor toward reducing disparities among minority children and families. It’s really more about not taking that for granted and being more intentional … about reaching those families who truly need our services in order to work. We look at applications and try to identify the kids who need us most and the families who need us to maintain their income.
Our programs also prepare youth to be engaged citizens, active in their communities and ready to speak out for what they feel is right. One of the metrics we track is the percentage of our club kids who feel they could stand up for what they believe in. Over 80 percent of our club kids feel equipped to do just that, which is really powerful. Our goal is to get that number even higher and to further equip kids to be actively engaged in their community. It’s a powerful thing to equip kids to speak out, to stand up for what they think is right, to serve their community. That’s something that we’re working hard to continue to develop.