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Vikings Help Welcome Back Young People to Boys & Girls Clubs

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Photos courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs

It was a big day at the Southside Village Boys & Girls Club.

The center – along with the other four Minneapolis and St. Paul locations – re-opened last week for in-person programs for the first time since clubs closed across the country in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clubs are operating at very limited capacity to maintain social-distancing guidelines and ensure the health and safety of staff members and the youth they serve, but it's a start.

On Friday, community partners – including the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves & Lynx, FOX Sports North and Caribou Coffee – helped welcome back young people ages kindergarten through fifth grade.

"What we wanted to do was create a special opportunity to let the kids know how excited we were to have them back," said Tim Schober, Boys & Girls Clubs Senior Director of Corporate and Public Relations. "And we wanted to bring everybody together that had supported them very strongly over the past year."

The past six months have certainly presented a variety of hardships for people of all ages and experiences. The impact on youth, however, is especially significant. Young people have encountered altered home lives and dealt with early school closures in the spring. Distance learning — or a hybrid variation — has continued this fall.

In addition, the Southside Village Boys & Girls Club is located less than half a mile from where George Floyd died while in police custody on Memorial Day.

"This time has really shaken up the world as they know it," Schober said. "So we wanted to make sure that we could, as clearly as possible, let them know how much support they have in the community."

Youth who attended the welcome party were surprised with various swag from the Twins, Timberwolves and Lynx; they also received Unilever ice cream and discount coupons for cleaning supplies and essential products for families.

The Vikings donated 15 laptops and tablets to the Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as 50 Vikings backpacks and face shields for young people.

Schober noted that the Vikings donation will allow the Boys & Girls Clubs to enhance their educational programming, which is offered from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. During that time, staff members work closely with students – and also with individual teachers – to provide extra support during the distance learning process.

"We've had to completely re-tool the way that we deliver our programming, and even what some of our curriculum is, so that we can fine-tune ourselves to the needs of the new academic year," Schober said. "It's allowing us to meet the kids where they're at, it's allowing us to meet the individual challenges that each young person may have, and it's allowing us to go above and beyond what we've done before.

"We can now enhance what we've been doing with some of our literacy curriculum, what we've been doing with some of our mathematics curriculum, and make sure that we're trying to bridge some of those achievement gaps that exist in Minneapolis and St. Paul," he added.

Vikings fullback and Duluth native C.J. Ham, who has worked closely with Boys & Girls Clubs throughout his time in the NFL, delivered a virtual message to the group.

"I know the Vikings are extremely excited to give back to local Clubs in the area by donating laptops to help out with virtual learning," Ham said. "This year's been tough, and we know learning's going to [look] a little bit different, so we're just excited to be able to give back and help out in any way possible.

"I just want to say how much the Boys & Girls Club means to me," Ham added. "I grew up in the Club from the age of 6 all the way to 18. The staff members there were like family, and it was definitely a second home. I just want to say 'thank you,' and I know the kids and I still appreciate all the work that you do and how much you care. So thank you all so much. SKOL."

Schober emphasized the positive difference that Ham makes in the lives of so many young people in the community.

"C.J., really, he's one of us. He's not just a Minnesotan; he's not just a Viking; he's a Club kid at heart. He's displayed that over and over again," Schober said. "I think C.J.'s messages really resonate because there's an authenticity to it. He knows some of the challenges some of these young people are facing because he's personally lived through it.

"The kids can pick up on an authenticity like that. They can pick up on someone's passion. And C.J., his authenticity and his passion just pulse through him," Schober continued. "It really is special when we can create some of those opportunities for the young people to hear from C.J. because we know that it inspires them just like we know that his messages inspire us and the rest of the community."

In addition to academic support, young people who are part of the Boys & Girls Clubs Twin Cities locations will benefit from social opportunities and interactions, as well as meals on-site and at home. While at the center, children have access to breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack; but the organization also received a state grant that allows it to provide meals for approximately 350 families every weekend.

Schober is thrilled to be able to provide in-person support again.

"We definitely were doing all that we could from March through the beginning of September," he said, "but when you can have that 1-on-1 conversation with a young person, you can really have a better understanding of where they're at, both mentally and academically, and really what they need from us as their supporters, as their mentors."