The Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach has been serving children and families of the beach community for more than half a century. Eighteen years ago, Pam Estes took the helm, guiding the programs and gathering support and awareness of the important work the Boys and Girls Club provides. Estes has helped transform the canyon-based club from a one-story building with a carpeted gym into a state-of-the-art community center. She has been a guiding force, not only in improving the facilities but also in fostering strong connections and a deep commitment to serving youth. "Today, all kids are up against a really tough world," Estes says."We're seeing an epidemic of anxiety among young people. Helping them develop the resiliency to overcome the obstacles that are going to be thrown their way is very important to us."
Pam Estes - Community Award WinnerThe MY HERO Project
She says positive relationships are the key to building this kind of resiliency. "We accomplish it through the positive relationships we're having with the kids," she says. "Treating them with respect, helping them develop a sense of belonging, connectiveness, self-worth and resilience."
Estes has been with the Boys & Girls Club since 2001 and has served as Chief Executive Officer since 2008. During her tenure, the number of youths served has grown from 850 to 4,200. Today, the Boys & Girls Club provides a safe and welcoming space for a host of activities — enjoying indoor and outdoor sports, planting a garden or exploring art and technology. Programs include Arts, Education, STEM, Team Sports and Recreation. There is even a group for Smart Girls.
The club's three locations, The Canyon, Bluebird Park, and El Toro Park in Lake Forest, all serve teens and young adults and offer preschool and adult English classes. Through summer camps and field trips, the club's devoted team of leaders helps enrich each child's love of learning and sense of community. Free, communal meals are offered at the center several times a week. "The most rewarding part is the job of seeing the kids every day. It’s a privilege to be here every day and to be part of this movement,” Estes says.
When asked about her own heroes, Estes says they are "the nearly fifty staff members that work at the club every day — They know every single child — they know their name. they know their story and they treat each one like the special person that they are."
To honor her achievements, The MY HERO Project selected Pam Estes as the 2019 recipient of the Community Hero Award for her ongoing support of youth. The award is presented each year at the annual Laguna Hero Fest, which honors individuals and organizations that have made noteworthy contributions to the local and global MY HERO community.
Please read Pam's own words to more fully understand why her vision has been so critical to the successful growth of this inspiring local organization dedicated to serving the needs of all youth.
Remarks made by Pam Estes CEO - Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach Community Partners Breakfast - April 24, 2019 at 7 Degrees
Our Mission: To empower all young people, especially those who need
us most, to realize their full potential as healthy, caring, and responsible adults.
"As our Boys & Girls Club mission states, we are here especially for those who need us most. Today ALL KIDS need our help. This morning we are celebrating our collective community impact on the young people who will define the future for us all. It’s also to remind us of the moral imperative for us to help young people build the resiliency, creativity, empathy, passion, courage, and critical thinking skills they’ll need to move the world forward in a positive way. Today nearly ½ of all youth don’t believe the American dream is possible. This moral imperative is more important now than ever before.
Scientific studies have shown that we are literally shaped by the people we are connected to, the relationships we have, for better or worse.
Crossing every socio-economic stratum, exposure to adverse childhood experiences like parents divorcing, witnessing or suffering abuse, and addiction or mental illness in the home can actually rewire the young developing brain to become stuck in a state of fight or flight, referred to as toxic stress.
Science shows us that toxic stress can negatively impact every part of a person’s life - emotionally, physically, socially, intellectually. For young people, it can become the lens they view the world through, the fearful perspective that their development is based on. When you couple that with having screens as their predominant window on “life,” a warped reality that is often manipulated for exploitation, void of true eye to eye personal connection and emotional intelligence, the trajectory can be morose.
Today, young people are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness and many must navigate an enormous inflection of darkness every day. For some the only path forward they see is to suppress. According to the CHKS, 80% of Laguna Beach Unified 7th graders are alone at home after school at least 1 day a week, with 41% home alone 3 or more. Alcohol use in the past 30 days jumps from 2% in 7th grade to 32% in 11th grade, with 23% saying that it was binge drinking. Use of any illicit alcohol or drug to get high increases from 7% in 7th grade to 56% of 11th graders. Thirty-one percent of our 11th graders have felt chronically sad or hopeless over the past 12 months, and 13% have seriously considered suicide.
This is not limited to one community... across the country, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people ages 10 – 24. Recently, we’ve felt the ripples from the nearly impossible to fathom, lost potential of a young life. This reminds us of how powerful it can be when we tell a Club member that we can’t wait to see them tomorrow. We can bring to light the “HOPE” that sustains us and give them a sense of value and belonging that they can carry with them in the future.
Positive youth development is complex and mysterious, an art and a science. We must understand the risk factors and help young people develop the protective factors that will help them thrive in life. Together, we are the antidote. Every one of us has the power to influence a child’s life trajectory. The answer is a recipe of love, hope, trust and value....
Research has also shown that spending more time with friends on non-screen activities makes you more likely to be happy. That is exactly the mainstay of the Boys & Girls Club experience. The underlying foundation for success in everything the Boys & Girls Club does is positive relationships. This is how young people gain a sense of belonging, connectedness, self-worth, and resiliency that will last a lifetime. We want all kids to develop a growth mind set – to be able to face, overcome, be strengthened by, and even transformed by adversities of life.
By working with a trauma-informed lens, understanding where young people are coming from, we can build up the parts of the brain associated with self-regulation, thoughtfulness, critical thinking, and empathy. As those parts gain strength, the fight and flight reflexes relax. At our Boys & Girls Club, we do this every day in many, many ways.
We provide young ones a safety net of social support, letting them know “you are not alone,” giving them a sense of belonging through positive relationships and mentorships. We help kids learn active and passive coping skills and self-regulate by identifying their emotions, gaining awareness of how to cool themselves down. We encourage children to solve problems on their own, by clearly defining the issue, creating multiple potential solutions, experimenting, evaluating, and trying again if needed. We instill hope and help young people discover a sense of purpose by having goals and a vision that “pulls you” into the future, building the capacity to dream about a brighter tomorrow, and learning that you can make a difference in lives around you and the world.
Ultimately, we ALL know that interpersonal connections and positive relationships make life better in every way. We believe that working together, we can make a meaningful difference in the world! And that’s exactly what we need to be modelling for the next generation.
I am so proud of the work we all do and feel incredibly privileged to be part of this caring community."