Expanding Place-Based Supports for Youth at Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids

Grant Recipient

Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids

Awarded Amount

$300,000 over three years

In 2022, the Steelcase Foundation provided a three-year $300,000 grant to Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids (BGCGR), to support its Be You Wellness and Workforce Readiness Programs.

The Be You Wellness program is led by an onsite licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) and teaches club members (youth) emotional regulation techniques to increase awareness of their emotions, manage stress and their reactions to stressful situations, and advocate for mental health needs to improve their overall well-being. The initiative seeks to shift culture through the Clubs by equipping staff and club members with tools and strategies to create a nurturing environment where all youth can thrive.
The Workforce Readiness program prepares teens for success in their first job, by encouraging members to explore their interests and passions, development employability skills, and apply their knowledge through real world experiences. Through nine weeks of programming, participants learn to write resumes, set goals, and apply and interview for jobs. At the end of the nine weeks, teens can apply for paid Junior Staff positions at BGCGR, where they will assist with day-to-day Club activities under the direction of a staff member.

Hear from BGCGR’s Director of Development, Angie Stumpo, and MSW Interns Bethany Czerny and Gabriella Friar as they share their learnings through these programs.


Angie Stumpo

Director of Development

Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids has provided meaningful programs and support to children and families in our community for more than 85 years. Our mission is to enable all young people to reach their full potential as responsible citizens through education, recreation, and positive community experiences. Each year, we serve about 1,400 children and youth through our Club after-school programming and summer camps. We strive to provide world-class programs so that success is within reach of every young person who enters our doors, with all members on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future, demonstrating good character and citizenship, and living a healthy lifestyle.

• What are the primary goals?
• How does this work support children and families?

This grant primarily supports our Be You Wellness program. When CEO Patrick Placzkowski was hired in 2019, he immediately saw the need for social emotional learning and mental health support within the Clubs. In 2020, we were able to launch our Be You Wellness program with a consultant to provide various staff training and engagement events focused on mental health. Through the success of the initial initiative, in fall 2021 we received enough funding to hire a full-time social worker who now oversees 8-10 master and bachelor of social work interns working in each Club, focusing on social emotional learning and mental health. The grant from the Steelcase Foundation helped to grow the program by devoting funding for Program & Behavior Specialists to focus specifically on this work, and adding these positions has been extremely impactful in the overall daily operations in the Clubs. The goals for this program are to increase awareness of mental health needs and treatment among staff and Club members, teach young people how to name their emotions, manage their stress and their reactions in stressful situations, advocate for their mental health needs, strengthen trust and psychological safety between children/youth and our staff, and improve the overall mental health and wellbeing of Club members.

This grant also supports our Workforce Readiness program, which includes a nine-week career curriculum followed up by the opportunity to work in the Clubs as junior staff members. The ultimate goal of the Workforce Readiness program is to close the opportunity and job readiness gap for youth by preparing them for success in their first job. The program helps youth develop a plan for pursuing the career of their dreams by encouraging young people to explore their interests and passions, develop their employability skills, and apply their knowledge in real-world work experiences.

Be You Wellness Program

Activities for staff – Staff participated in multiple trainings throughout the year. Topics included trauma-informed care, de-escalation techniques, self-care, and mindfulness exercises. In addition, all new staff completed onboarding training.
Activities/services for students – Our students benefited from various activities in the Be You Wellness program. First, every member who enters our doors has access to our program components. Having our staff trained in trauma-informed care, de-escalation techniques and other social emotional learning subjects ensures that every child is treated with these concepts in mind. All members have access to our cool down corners to learn coping and calming techniques to name and manage their big emotions. Second, students can participate in group sessions of the Skills Mastery and Resilience Training (SMART) Moves Emotional Wellness curriculum that includes topics of self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness and is designed to help youth develop healthy decision-making skills. Lastly, youth who need extra care participate in one-on-one case management meetings with MSW interns on a weekly basis.

Activities/services for parents/families – Our family resource nights have become an integral part of our Be You Wellness program. Families love being involved and learning about what their children are doing in the Clubs. The family resource nights also help connect families to other resources in our community through partnerships with organizations such as Family Futures, Home Repair Services, Cherry Health, Grand Rapids Public Library, Consumers Energy, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, Women’s Resource Center, and many more.
Workforce Readiness Program

We have successfully completed three cohorts of workforce development classes. Thirteen students then went on to complete junior staff positions within the Clubs, and we are currently working on hiring nine more. Junior staff helped complete activities with younger kids, serve meals, and keep supplies organized.

Future work
We are hoping to continue to grow both programs to be able to offer more support and opportunities to all of our members. In the Be You Wellness program, we are focused on consistently maintaining MSW and BSW interns at each of our Clubs, continuing to evolve our cool-down corners, and increase our case management capacity. In Workforce Readiness, we are planning to try some new strategies with each Club to help with recruitment and completion of the program.

We have learned through both programs that you don’t have to start out knowing everything, but just getting started is a big step. With the Be You Wellness program, we had to start small with a consultant and eventually were able to grow it enough and see the impact to be able to hire a social worker and manage multiple interns. In Workforce Readiness, we also started with a consultant and are now able to devote staff time to managing the program in-house in order to grow it. With both programs, we tried things that ended up not working, so we shifted strategies to something that would work better and be able to serve more members. Consistent evaluation has been helpful in shaping both programs into what they are today.

We feel that both of these programs give children the tools to thrive in multiple ways. The Be You Wellness program provides the support needed to teach young people how to name their emotions, manage their stress and their reactions in stressful situations, skills that are vital throughout life to not only cope, but thrive. The Workforce Readiness program teaches them the basics of job searching, writing resumes, and interviewing, as well as gives students a positive first work experience so they are better prepared for joining the outside workforce and thriving in whatever they pursue.

We are so grateful to the Steelcase Foundation and all of our supporters who make these vital programs possible!

MSW Interns

Bethany Czerny

MSW Intern

Club: Steil

I grew up in a household that did not believe in mental health and ignored me when I asked for help. It was the people who saw me struggling and showed me care and love that made a difference to my mental health. I decided to go into social work to be the person I needed growing up. I want the people I work with to know that they do not have to go through life alone; I want to be able to advocate and help them through life’s challenges, showing them unconditional love and care.

My experience at the Boys and Girls Club has been unforgettable. This was not my planned internship, but I am grateful to be here. I have learned things I will continue to reflect on and use throughout the rest of my career as a social worker. I have seen how generational trauma and systemic racism can impact communities and the children we serve here at the Boys and Girls Club.

I have made a difference in children’s lives here by providing a safe and judgment-free place to share what they are going through and the ability to feel their emotions. A club member came to me in the cool-down corner asking for help because they felt unsafe at home. Another club member I have been working with since the start of my internship has difficulty identifying their emotions and regulating when they feel upset. We worked together to create tools to help them communicate their feelings. But overall, I have made a difference by loving these kids for who they are. I sit with them, showing them how to assemble a puzzle, shooting hoops (even though I am terrible at basketball), or just generally encouraging them in what they are passionate about.

Gabriella Friar

MSW Intern

Club: Paul I Phillips

I decided to go into social work because I wanted to help people achieve the best version of themselves that they want to be. Often in our society, people are not able to achieve the person they want to be because they don’t receive enough support, and this can leave people feeling frustrated. Through social work, I see the ability to give that support and encouragement that sometimes can’t be found elsewhere.

I began my experience at Seidman Boys & Girls Club but transitioned to Paul I Phillips to meet the needs of more club members. Some of the things I have learned are that there is always more than meets the eye, especially with aggressive or out of character behaviors, and that maintaining an approachable and non-judgmental demeanor can go a long way in helping a youth trust you.

I think there are simple things that I do that make a difference. I don’t think that these are “life-changing” differences, but they are small things that can help make someone’s day brighter. A simple smile when you greet a youth, checking in on someone who doesn’t seem to be having a good day, or engaging in an activity the youth is passionate about can help to make a difference and can help forge a relationship.