The new president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania says the demand for after-school programming in the region is not being met.
Chris Watts told WESA’s the Confluence that the pandemic exacerbated the need, but funding hasn’t kept up.
“There’s a bigger need out there than what’s provided for communities across the country. And you just look at Pennsylvania: it’s one of the few states that does not have a dedicated budget focused on after-school time and opportunities for kids,” he said.
The clubs were one of the community organizations that hosted learning hubs when schools were closed in 2020. While many organizations received pandemic relief funds, some have reported not receiving enough to maintain operations.
“I don’t think we’re investing enough, and I think it’s time to continue to collaborate both at the local, state and also federal level to explore how we can invest in our youth,” he said.
Watts’ himself spent time at the Millvale Boys and Girls Club as a youth, and his son also attends a club. He says investing in high-quality programs not only improves the social and emotional well-being of students, but research also shows that there’s a large return on investment when communities prioritize after-school care and opportunities.
Watts also said he is committed to ensuring the clubs are accessible and welcoming for all students, especially LGBTQ youth.
The organization operates 14 clubhouses in Allegheny and Somerset Counties.
90.5 WESA Sarah Schneider