2013 Grants Challenge

BE GREAT Mentoring Program

Mar Vista Gardens is the third largest public housing site in the city of Los Angeles and is located in the 5th most crime-ridden neighborhood. The average household income at Mar Vista Gardens is $1,713 per month, more than half of households live at poverty level, and 67% of adult residents do not have a high school diploma. Currently, 600 school age youth live in this community. Our idea is to provide an after-school mentoring program that ensures that all the children in the Mar Vista Gardens community have the opportunity to build successful and productive futures for themselves and their families. The BE GREAT: Graduate program is the Boys & Girls Club’s solution to the low educational attainment rates and cycle of poverty in low-income communities like Mar Vista Gardens. BE GREAT is an evidence-based dropout intervention program that targets young people who are most vulnerable to dropping out of school. The program is based on the University of Minnesota’s Check & Connect model, which is one of 27 dropout intervention programs reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education thus far. It is proven to have positive effects for keeping youth in school. The Boys & Girls Club of Mar Vista Gardens will implement the BE GREAT: Graduate model to support and encourage academic achievement for young residents, ages 6 to 18 years. The BE GREAT program has three components: 1) Mentor-Youth Relationships – Club staff and community volunteers build long-term mentoring relationships with youth by creating an environment of trust and open communication. The goal is to instill in young people the belief that “they can, they want to, and they belong.” 2) Intentional Tracking – Club staff watch for warning signs of student withdrawal from school (i.e. attendance, behavior and course failure). As mentors, they work with program participants to develop timely intervention that focuses on reducing negative factors, increasing strengths, problem solving and persistence. 3) Enhanced Club-School-Home Partnership and Communication – The Club and local schools work together to share information. The Club proactively reaches out to parents in order to engage them in their children’s education. Research conducted by Boys & Girls Clubs of America suggests that youth who attend program approximately once per week are more likely to demonstrate positive outcomes than those who attend less frequently. In order to ensure that our BE GREAT program is the most effective, we need to incorporate it into a comprehensive youth development program that provides a safe environment and fun, engaging activities. Support from the Goldhirsh Foundation and the LA2050 Challenge would allow us to create an interactive space where youth feel comfortable learning, playing, and building trusting relationships. Resources for an effective BE GREAT program include professional and committed youth development staff, a strong community volunteer program, academic enrichment activities in language arts and STEM subjects, and engaging space for learning, playing and socializing. The Boys & Girls Club of Mar Vista Gardens is still in the process of building and creating the necessary resources to realize our goal of operating a successful BE GREAT: Graduate program. Since we opened on January 28, 2013, more than 250 of the 600 school-age youth who live in the community have registered as Club members. Because membership is also open to youth from the surrounding neighborhood, we have the potential to serve hundreds more young people. The BE GREAT program would provide mentoring for all registered Club members, ensuring that they receive consistent support from caring and trusted adults. Moreover, it fulfills a critical need by addressing social and emotional problems that homework help and tutoring alone do not solve.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The Boys & Girls Club of Mar Vista Gardens has only just recently opened on January 28th. To date, 264 young people from the housing community have registered as Club members (out of 600 school age residents). Other highlights from the past two months include the formation of our first sports league (Ultimate Lacrosse League), creation of a recycling program for the housing community operated by Club members, our first Family Night celebration in honor of our one month anniversary, a St. Patrick’s Day party for teen members, and upcoming Easter Celebration for the entire community. Our Club members have started creating animated cartoons and recording music in our tech room. We are extremely proud of our teen members who have started tutoring our younger members. Two of our teens also had the opportunity to go to the Keystone Conference for their demonstrated leadership and community service.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Clare Foundation

Del Rey Neighborhood Council

DiDi Hirsh Mental Health

Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles

JVS – WorkSource

Los Angeles Police Department

Los Angeles Unified School District

Loyola Marymount University

Mar Vista Family Center

UCLA Literacy Program

UCLA OneSource

Venice Sill Center


Volunteers of America

Westside Regional Center

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Club staff will use the following indicators to track the progress of BE GREAT: Graduate participants:

• Frequency of attendance

• Percent of surveyed members that are performing at grade level (based on age)

• Highest level of schooling that members expect to complete

• Percent of surveyed members that expect to complete high school

• Percent of members that report an optimal Club Experience based on their relationship with a caring adult

• Extent to which members feel connected to school as demonstrated through grades, school attendance, and effort and interest in school work.

Each of these indicators was chosen for its usefulness to either demonstrate or predict a young person’s achievement of one or more positive outcomes. The indicators are research-based and age-appropriate.

Data collection will be conducted through several mechanisms including member self-reporting, partnerships with local schools, and BGCA’s National Youth Outcomes Initiative (NYOI). The NYOI connects our Club member tracking database with the National Outcomes Database, which collects and analyzes member demographics such as attendance, program participation and community service hours. The majority of program indicators will be collected using the National Outcomes Survey, which asks age-appropriate questions about member behaviors and attitudes regarding the Club experience as well as academic achievement, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles. Surveys are available in both English and Spanish.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

The high school dropout rate in Los Angeles County is more than 20%. This rate is even higher for Hispanic and black students and students from low-income households. The community at Mar Vista Gardens, which is 84% Hispanic and has 55% of households living at the federal poverty level, is highly representative of this achievement gap. Through this project, we would be able to establish the BE GREAT program at Mar Vista Gardens as a model for other low-income and public housing communities. In fact, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) plans to use our after-school program, which is built around BE GREAT, as the model for youth programs at all of its housing sites. As a result, the program has the potential to impact nearly 7,000 young HACLA residents, and this number is continuing to grow as HACLA develops more low-income housing sites.

Specifically, the BE GREAT model has proven to have the following results for youth participants who complete the program (based on data collected by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America over two years):

• 54% maintained or improved their school attendance

• 77% showed a constant or improved grade in reading

• 74% showed a constant or improved grade in math

• 56% maintained or improved their behavior at school

• 98% progressed to the next grade level on time

By implementing BE GREAT at Mar Vista Gardens, our ultimate goal is to break the cycle of poverty for families living in the community. BE GREAT uses strength-based strategies and problem solving techniques to help young people develop the academic, emotional and social skills necessary to succeed in school. Improved academic achievement will encourage students to stay in school and graduate on time, thus increasing opportunities for advancement through college and employment.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

As an organization, we want to have more youth from across Los Angeles registered as Club members and greater participation from the community, especially family members and educators. A successful program will also mean greater retention of members during middle and high school, and a member graduation rate of 100%. The BE GREAT: Graduate program depends upon a high level of dedication and investment from community stakeholders, and it will help us forge more partnerships and strengthen existing ones. By 2050, we expect to see the BE GREAT mentoring program model at all Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles community sites, actively working to close the achievement gap among minority and low-income students. We also hope that schools throughout the city will adopt a similar mentoring model for after school programming if they are not already partnered with a local Boys & Girls Club. We want to transform the way Los Angeles educates our young people by introducing a holistic mentoring approach that supports their social and emotional development in order to foster academic and future success.