By: Jerome Paolini
SBGC at Sts. Peter and Paul Board President and Salesian College Preparatory, Class of 1977
(San Francisco) – These famous words from P. T. Barnum in the 19th century extolled performers to continue on as planned even in the face of problems and adversity. Similarly, “The Show Must Go On” also applies to the staff and leadership team of the Salesian Boys’ and Girls’ Club (The Club). While the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, The Club ensured that the show went on.
The Zoom Where it Happens (Virtual Programming)
Obviously, during the height of the pandemic, it was not business as usual. The Club was forced to close its doors to the kids to ensure the safety of its Members and staff, but while the physical doors were closed the Club’s leadership team ensured that the love and support remained. The Club began offering programming virtually which included daily homework help, Spanish and American Sign Language classes, as well as cooking classes. There was also an exercise class led by a Club parent and volunteer coach. In addition, we offered several Minecraft sessions so that Club Members could play the popular video game with friends.
The Club also began offering two weekly newsletters for Club Members. These included information about our virtual programming, an arts & crafts demonstration and a cooking demonstration, so that Club Members could cook or create the projects on their own time at home. Classes were open to all Members and their families via Zoom. Through these “Grigio E-Blasts” Members were able to send in photos of themselves during the pandemic to feel connected to their peers. We even had our Executive Director, Randy DeMartini teaching yo-yo tricks. Personally, I always wanted to learn “Walk the Dog” and “Around the World.”
The Reality Series (The Pod Structure)
One of the greatest benefits of The Club is that it is open to all kids from all backgrounds and locations throughout the City. Prior to the pandemic, Club Members were able to move freely throughout the building and play together; however, after closure, the Club needed to keep kids safely distanced. A Pod structure was instituted, grouping kids by grades, designed to allow kids to assemble in a safe fashion. All staff were fully vaccinated and both staff and Club Members wore masks. The Pod system allows The Club to accommodate about 130 kids on a daily basis, down from the normal 250 pre-pandemic, but the key achievement was that we remained open, serving the kids…safely.
The Box Office (Fundraising)
In person fundraising events are a crucial part of The Club’s success. When the pandemic hit, the majority of our events had to be canceled or postponed. The Club pivoted with quick thinking and creativity, adjusting some of its annual events, including the popular Cioppino crab feed, one of the most beloved fundraising events. In February of 2021 we took the “crabby” situation that was the ongoing pandemic, and made it delicious by offering Cioppino at home – the same dinner, just offered to go! Supporters were able to drive by The Club and pick up a take away Cioppino at home box loaded with all the goodies (enough for four people) that you would normally enjoy at a sit down Cioppino feed in the gym. Cioppino at home was again offered in February 2022. The Club also held our annual Luxury Raffle, which went off without a hitch. These events would not have been possible without the support of Board Members, Staff and our amazing and resilient Salesian Community.
The Big Screen (Our Theater Program)
Speaking of resilience, in 2020 we were disappointed when the Salesian Theater’s production of “Matilda”was canceled due to the pandemic. However, the show must go on and our theater team took the magic of watching a performance live and brought it into the homes of our Club members and their families through Zoom. In uncertain times and uncharted territory our virtual theater program has thrived. Following the success of our first virtual production, The Wizard of Oz, in December of 2020. Our theater program performed it’s second virtual production in June 2021, Disney Little Mermaid Jr, transporting our members and their families under the sea. In the Fall of 2021 rehearsals began for Disney Frozen Kids, our third (and hopefully final) virtual only production. Disney Frozen Kids warmed the hearts and homes of all who streamed it. The Club was able to create a pop-up drive-in within The Club’s yard so that cast and crew could watch the show in a special way. It truly was a memorable event. I was so touched by the performance that I cried.
The Show Must Go On (The Salesian Commitment and Legacy)
It is so rewarding to support the Salesian Boys’ & Girls’ Club in its mission to provide a safe place for Members to have transformational experiences that help them learn, grow, and thrive in the loving nurturing philosophy of St. John Bosco. The Club is a safe haven that gives youth from various backgrounds the opportunity to play together freely and just be young. We want our youth to have the opportunity to explore their interests at an affordable annual dues of just $10. The fee is symbolic with the goal of instilling a sense of responsibility and ownership for members and to provide equal access for everyone. When youth become Members of The Club they become a part of a community that will continue to support and cheer them on throughout their lives. Now, this is a show worth attending.