When Malibu’s branch of the Boys and Girls Club opened 20 years ago, it was envisioned as an enrichment program for local students. Keeping kids engaged after school perhaps could keep them busy and out of trouble. But the Boys and Girls Club of Malibu (BGCM) has evolved into so much more. It’s now one of the most important social services organizations in town, providing a lifeline to a community first hit with the Woolsey Fire and then the COVID-19 pandemic.
The club’s expansion beyond traditional after school programs into social services began in 2015 with the offering of mental health services for students.
“From there, the need became obvious to increase capacity,” said BGCM Executive Director Kasey Earnest. The club’s Wellness Center was established through a collective of concerned community members in 2017. A formal partnership was subsequently made with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to become the sole provider of mental health services for all Malibu public school children.
Then after The Woolsey Fire in 2018, Earnest explained, “We were able to transition our wellness team to provide crisis counseling for the community at large for five months.” With funding from the federal government, BGCM was able to continue counseling support with attention to post disaster trauma.
“It’s what’s allowed us to branch our services,” Earnest explained, which includes the hiring of social support services director Peggy Zherdev.
The Woolsey Fire also transformed BGCM into providing more social services—and did it quickly. Just days after the devastating wildfire, an emergency relief fund was set up. Through fundraising efforts, according to Earnest, “We have passed through approximately $2 million in emergency aid, workforce development and long-term recovery funding to more than 900 individuals and families.”
BGCM leaders say they’ve helped support 5,000 individuals in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, providing social and mental health services and even transitioning a few people out of homelessness into housing.
The club’s latest mission has been providing a food pantry and food delivery service to area seniors and vulnerable families. At the height of the pandemic, BGCM was providing food to 250 households. They’re still serving 100 families a month—and all this while continuing after school enrichment including operating a 2020 summer program.
“We have been open during the pandemic. We’ve had kids in our facilities every day receiving academic support and social/emotional services,” Earnest remarked. “These would be students who lacked access to technology or academic guidance in their homes.”
“One of the amazing capabilities of most Boys and Girls Clubs is that we are able to respond to crises very easily,” she went on. “Most of the clubs in LA County transitioned into some type of social service organization through meal delivery and food pantry while providing academic support to low-income students, but there are a couple of clubs, including the West San Gabriel Valley club, that have a robust wellness program that includes a wellness center on wheels to provide private counseling. Where we are unique: we’ve been able to extend our services outside of our club walls.”
The club’s director of community affairs and outreach, Siugen Constanza, is a 2021 Malibu Citizen of the Year Dolphin Award recipient, recognized for her tireless efforts, especially in feeding needy families. Earnest has received a Dolphin as well for her extraordinary leadership. BGCM was recognized as a State of California Nonprofit of the Year in 2019, among numerous other accolades.
Ethan White, development strategist for BGCM, stressed the need for community support.
“Because we’ve been focused on utilizing the funds we received from the federal government, we haven’t focused as much on raising money for the short term,” White said. Although the club has received $180,000 in generous donations to feed the hungry, financial support is still appreciated for general operations and services.
One of those services may be the need to transition struggling distance-learning students back to in-person instruction, which is happening now. Zherdev confirmed: “We have professional therapists who are trained and have crisis intervention skills”.
“As long as the need is there, we will be there,” Earnest promised.
The Malibu Rotary Club just delivered a $10,000 check to BGCM.
“Kasey, Siugen and the entire staff are doing miracles,” Rotarian Margo Neal remarked.