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By Helen Horvath


July 8, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) -- In this continuing series of interviews about the impact of COVID-19 upon nonprofit organizations serving the East County communities, East County Magazine interviews Forrest Higgins III, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of East County. The mission of the Boys and Girls Clubs of East County is “to enable all young people, especially those that need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”


COVID-19 has stripped away many nonprofit’s abilities to generate revenue and sustain programs and services without creating modifications to how the non-profit operates.  This includes the Boys and Girls Club of East County (BGCEC) a local 501(c)(3) non-profit.


The BGCEC has been in operation for 59 years.  Until the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the BGCEC has operated at full capacity since opening in 1961.  Yet, since the pandemic the BGCEC has only been able to operate at 25% of past years capacity. This impacts the revenue streams of the BGCEC along with how the programs and services are funded and operated under COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.  


Do your children love basketball? Sports? Art? Computer science?  The BGCEC is the place to go for new experiences in our communities.  It was the local hangout for many of our East County residents as teenagers. 


The mission of the BGCEC has not changed much since the organization opened its doors:  to provide activities and programs to disadvantaged youth in our East County communities.  The Clubs are divided based upon age and activities in a variety of East County locations.  These locations include Santee, Lakeside, two locations in El Cajon, and two locations in La Mesa.   The programs and services are open to all community members.


Some of the key services include age appropriate activities, state of the art computer labs, programs that provide personal development in five core areas that include character and leadership, education and careers, health and life skills, the arts and sports, and fitness and recreation. These areas are key to the development of children into adults as productive, caring, and responsible community members.


As many may know, when COVID-19 reached our region, the BGCEC initially closed in order to assess how the BGCEC’s procedures and operations would continue in order to ensure that our members and staff remained safe.  According to Higgins, the BGCEC “had to  adjust to the restrictions and limitations outlined by the County of San Diego.”  This occurred  from March through June. The CEO states, “Since June, we have been open for camp to our families in East County.  While we have had to limit capacity, we have not had to cap our sign-ups, as we have found that not all families need care at this time.  As such, we have been able to accommodate all those in need of our services.”


On May 29, the BGCEC announced reopening of the Santee and La Mesa BGCEC with stricter healthy environment requirements that included smaller groups, social distancing, not sharing equipment, and other modifications to operations during this public health crisis.


When asked about the opening of the El Cajon and Lakeside locations and action plans to open these facilities to serve the community, Mr. Higgins stated, “We plan on opening our other locations this fall, as school resumes.” Currently, the full reopening of the various school districts is in question.  He continued, “As each school district officially announces their respective fall plans it will allow us to offer options for our families such as year-round day camp and after school transportation.  While we have not been given a concrete idea of how school districts are going to operate, we are prepared to adjust our programming to accommodate our families.  It will likely mean more camp days and modifications to our typical hours of operation during the academic year.  We are confident that we will be able to offer our families care when they need it and in whatever capacity they may need it, as their children go back to school.”


The BGCEC, according to Higgins, has “implemented a system in which each member receives a cinch bag labeled with their name.  In these bags are things like Legos, arts and craft supplies, a dry erase board, their personal water bottle, and any other goodies that may have to do with the activities of the week.  Members return them when they leave for the day, at which point the items are sanitized.  At the end of the week, the bags are machine washed and ready to use for the following week. We have also assigned a staffer as the “cleaner” of the week.  This employee is not running activities, rather, they are disinfecting and sanitizing any room that a group may have just come out of in order to prep it for the next group.  They also are responsible for keeping the bathroom disinfected hourly and any other cleaning tasks that may arise in the day.  Members and staff wash their hands every hour on the hour staff carry “fanny” packs with things like sanitizer, band aids and gloves so that they are prepared for situations that may arise.  The members and staff have been able to adapt quite quickly to the new procedures. In fact, there are likely to be several protocols and procedures that we keep in place, even after restrictions are lifted.”


The BGCEC has several key priorities that were discussed.  Since reopening on June 15 in some locations, the BGCEC has been cautious regarding the needs of kids, parents, and staff.  The CEO stated, “As a result of the building changes, new protocols and procedures, we still focus on our kids having an amazing experience.  We take pride in making sure our parents know that their children are safe and having a great time while they are in our buildings.  Our objective is to ensure that when our members come through our doors, that they can focus only on having fun and not have to worry about anything else in the world.  Even with all the modifications, we have been able to do this for our members.”


COVID-19 has impacted many low or lower income families who require additional support for disadvantaged youth to include childcare services.  


ECM inquired about the largest area of programmatic impact to the BGCEC programs and services besides the actual closing of the facilities during the March to June 2020 time period.  Mr. Higgins replied “Under the County and State guidelines it required us to formalize our Safe Reopening Plan…(this) entailed modifying all of our program areas to ensure the 6’ distancing, hand sanitizers stations, increased cleaning and supplies, temperature checks, and staff training, and weekend disinfecting. Members remain with the same group all week and we minimize the amount of staff they interact with as well.  We have modified activities to limit sharing of objects (equipment, art supplies, etc.) and have provided members each with their own set of supplies for the week that only they (member) touch. With all of these modifications, we have had to get very creative with programming, but staff have done a great job of making sure the kids have a great time and a memorable summer camp experience.”


As a membership organization the BGCEC lists fees as $563 per member with other lower costs available for those who receive grants and participate in programs. Fees for the Summer Camp was currently listed as $94 a week plus the membership fee.  There are other prices listed on the BGCEC that include annual membership and program memberships.  According to Higgins, the “$563 is the “pre-COVID” approximate cost the Club incurs to have each member in the building. Of that cost, we charge members $50 annually and if they would like to participate in programs such as transportation or camps, they would then pay an additional fee.  Donor and community gifts allow the Club to underwrite the majority of the cost associated with a child’s membership.”


Higgins added, “We are unable to provide an updated cost per member as of today since we do not have all of the information we need from the school districts regarding distance learning days and bus transportation. However, we anticipate the cost to nearly double (for our organization and the community).  Our summer camp still has openings. Financial assistance is available for families that qualify.”  Financial assistance is provided through the generosity of the community grants and contributions.  


COVID-19 and giving programs


COVID-19 has directly impacted the BGCEC financially.  


Higgins states, “Under the current County and State guidelines we are operating at 25% of our program’s capacity.”  He added that “in fundraising event revenue, we are slightly lower than projected due to postponing our Golf Day (originally scheduled for July 10th at Singing Hills Golf Resort by Sycuan). A few of our big event sponsors have still donated despite moving the tournament because they understand the cause and that the Club needs the funds even without the event. Also, we were lucky to host our Children’s Ball gala on March 7th, right before the lockdown; it was more lucrative than anticipated.”  


Beyond raising money through fundraising events, the BGCEC has been provided financial  “gifts from individuals and grantmaking.” These gifts are higher than anticipated over projections in the last quarter of the fiscal year. Higgins says, “This is due to recognizing an increase in need and making the appropriate requests for support (from the communities). We realize our families will need financial assistance to pay for their children’s annual memberships, summer camp and possibly school bus transportation,” if the program is still available through the school districts.


The BGCEC’s fundraising events account for approximately 7% of the nonprofit’s annual budget.  Mr. Higgins stated that to the BGCEC, “fundraising events are opportunities to bring together the community and our long-time donors for the benefit of local kids. They (the events) must make money since they have overhead, but they are not our main source of funding.”


The Clubs have pivoted in how the organization approaches fundraising. Higgins stated, “We have postponed Golf Day and the Auction Stampede to ensure the safety of our donors, staff, and staff of the host venues.” Now the focus has shifted to “individual giving, corporate giving, and grant making from foundations for sustainability.” In addition, he states, “We have received federal grant monies through our national affiliate Boys & Girls Clubs of America for youth mentoring, and local monies from the County of San Diego’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, and the cities of Santee and El Cajon Community Development Block Grant programs.”


ECM asked what the BGCEC’s greatest need is currently.  The CEO responded, “Many of our families will require financial assistance for camp and transportation as we approach the new school year.”  


Most importantly, what can the East County and San Diego communities do to partner with and sustain the nonprofit BGCEC for another generation of youth and families?  


Mr. Higgins stated, “The best way to make an impact at the Boys & Girls Clubs of East County is to commit to participating in our new monthly giving program, “Coffee Club.” The premise is that the BGCEC asks “members of the community to consider sacrificing a fancy coffee drink, saving approximately $25 (or multiple cups of fancy coffee). “The suggestion is to give that money to the Club,” Higgins said. “That money will help provide financial assistance to a family for Club related participation (such as annual membership fee, weekly camp fees or monthly bus transportation fees). We may not be able to have our long established fundraisers like our golf tournament and Auction Stampede, but everyone can pitch in to help the kids in our community. Visit to sign up as a member of our Coffee Club today.”


In closing our interview, ECM asked Higgins if there is anything he would like to let the community know. He replied,, “There is no such thing as a contribution too small; all of us can make an impact in the life of a child. We are proud to have served East County for the last 59 years and are ready to do so for the next 59!”


To learn more about the Boys and Girls Club of East County programs and services to the community, please review their website.  To donate to the Boys and Girls Club of East County please click on their donor button at


Dr. Helen Horvath is a psychologist, organizational development consultant and published author on a variety of psychology and business topics. As a speaker, she has presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Conference, Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and other key professional organizations.  She is a former marriage and family therapist and published a relationship book entitled “Put a Period to IT: When Divorce is the Option".


East County Magazine gratefully thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for support through its COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program to help make reporting possible on the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable local populations. #FacebookJournalismProject.


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