Boys & Girls Club

Boys and Girls Club ABILITY Jobs job board for people wih disabilities

At the impressionable age of eight, Marvin Laster became a member of the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown, Albany, GA. The popular neighborhood hangout gave him a safe haven from the lures of the streets. With some 4,300 Clubs worldwide, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) makes sure that children who might otherwise be at home after school with no supervision, have a place to go and something productive to do. Academy-Award-winning actor Denzel Washington has often given credit to the club in his old Mount Vernon, NY, neighborhood for keeping him on the straight and narrow during his youth.

“Much of the success that I have achieved I attribute to lessons learned within the club,” says Laster, who’s also enjoyed a life-long relationship with Atlanta-based BGCA. Though he learned a great deal from the older staff back in the day, he received perhaps his most valuable ‘take-away’ from a friend named Shawn Luke, who had a disability. As the two boys played pool and other games at the club, their differences disappeared.

“He taught me acceptance,” Laster says. Now, as director of diversity for BGCA, he helps to make sure that message is imparted not only throughout the organization, but also beyond.

To institute its diversity and inclusion program, BGCA used a “top down/bottom up” approach. From the bottom up, it created a pilot program by identifying five clubs that had marked success serving youths with disabilities. These clubs were teamed with local Easter Seals affiliates, school systems, agencies and community organizations, so that BGCA staff could get additional training or have a place to refer kids in need. The program also tracked progress and captured “best practices.” The pilot sites provided the organization with several unique programming activities for youth with disabilities as well.

From the top down, BGCA took a step back and reviewed its mission statement and policies to help determine how the national office could be more supportive of initiatives to include young people with disabilities. To that end, Laster encouraged local clubs to sign BGCA’s Diversity Pledge. He wrote articles on the subject and also encouraged all Clubs to celebrate National Disability Awareness Month (October).

Laster then sought out alliances with Easter Seals and several like-minded foundations such as Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF), based in Arlington, VA, to expand the resources and reach of BGCA’s national-level initiatives. MEAF provides national grants to projects and organizations that are focused on the full inclusion of young people with disabilities. It was serendipitous that they were also looking to team up with a “mainstream” organization.

“The partnership with BGCA represented the perfect intersection of mission, need and opportunity,” says Rayna Aylward, executive director of MEAF. “The right people at the right time are facing in the right direction.”

Previously, BGCA had formally partnered with Kids Included Together (KIT), which had an existing relationship with MEAF. KIT is a San Diego, CA, nonprofit that provides training for after-school organizations committed to servicing children with disabilities. Working together, BGCA and KIT developed Embracing Inclusion: It’s About All of Us, a programming manual that offers tips, activities and events that clubs can easily implement.

“This initiative has led to significant outcomes in the advancement of the Boys & Girls Club mission,” says Julius Lott, BGCA’s vice president of diversity.

Though the formal agreements have expired, BGCA, MEAF and KIT continue to work together and remain committed to the vision. Their partnership with other organizations and agencies has been instrumental in developing Paths to Inclusion, a resource guide for fully including youths of all abilities into community life.

This sense of mission is shared by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Carlsbad, CA, which recently was presented with an award for furthering the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The club’s Physical and Learning Support (PALS) program earned them a $2,000 cash award and acknowledgment for their contributions from Prudential Financial as well as from the National Organization on Disability.

Similar to Laster’s experience with his childhood friend Shawn, PALS pairs a child who has a disability with a typically-developing kid at the club to cultivate a rewarding learning experience and a climate of understanding and acceptance.

Making it all work takes money. Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation has invested $2 million, while its nonprofit partners have leveraged an additional $4 million towards promoting inclusion. MEAF is now helping to involve other grant makers through the Disability Funders Network... continued in ABILITY Magazine

by Lauren A. Hoffman

Boys & Girls Clubs of America:, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation:, Kids Included Together:,
Paths to Inclusion and other resources can be downloaded from

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Other articles in the Herschel Walker issue include Green Pages—An Old Fashion Clothesline; Faucet Aerators;Pate—Winter Sports Clinic Highlights; Humor Therapy; Man’s New Best Friend; Headlines—Splel Chceker, Drum Therapy, HBO Film and more; George Covington—Nobody Walks In Texas; Ouch!—Relief for Fibromyalgia; Best Practices—Sprint Has Your Number; A Place Called Home—Disability Legal Rights Center; UCP—A Ride to Raise Funds and Awareness; Ability on Assignment—Qatar, Shafallah Forum; Essay—Spread Respect; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Herschel Walker issue:

Herschel Walker — Interview

Documentary — Including Samuel

Step of Mind — Using Chaos For Good in the Middle East

Inclusion — Making Strides at the Boys & Girls Club

Ouch!—Relief for Fibromyalgia

Sport Clinic Volunteers

Humor — Man's New Best Friend

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