By Erin Porteous, CEO

As I reflect on the fact that we are already three weeks into the new year, I’ve been thinking about the concept of resolutions. If it takes 21 days to form a habit, then those “work out every day” or “eat more vegetables” or “put my phone away one hour before bed” promises we may have made to ourselves are either sticking – or not – by this point in the year. However, what is often missing as we beat ourselves up for not following through, is the recognition that this is truly all in our hands – if we’re lucky. Whether we eat healthy or we don’t, whether we go to the gym or we don’t, whether we unplug our phones or we don’t. Making healthy choices, for many of us, only depends on our personal will and volition. There is no barrier other than our own motivation. I know that within my own neighborhood, there are several grocery stores, two parks, library, a gym, and safe sidewalks and roads when I head out for a long weekend run. 

By Erin Porteous, CEO

As I reflect on the fact that we are already three weeks into the new year, I’ve been thinking about the concept of resolutions. If it takes 21 days to form a habit, then those “work out every day” or “eat more vegetables” or “put my phone away one hour before bed” promises we may have made to ourselves are either sticking – or not – by this point in the year. However, what is often missing as we beat ourselves up for not following through, is the recognition that this is truly all in our hands – if we’re lucky. Whether we eat healthy or we don’t, whether we go to the gym or we don’t, whether we unplug our phones or we don’t. Making healthy choices, for many of us, only depends on our personal will and volition. There is no barrier other than our own motivation. I know that within my own neighborhood, there are several grocery stores, two parks, library, a gym, and safe sidewalks and roads when I head out for a long weekend run. 

This is not the case universally across Colorado, where 12% of children live in poverty. It’s certainly not the case for so many of our Club kids and families in Metro DenverMore than 90% of our Club kids come from families who are living at poverty level or below. This means they are often barely staying afloat financiallyIt also means that many face food insecurity and live in neighborhoods that lack reliable transportation and safe places to play outside. recent report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shared that children who live in areas of concentrated poverty also lack access to quality classroom experiences, they are less likely to have healthy food and good medical care, and they often face greater exposure to environmental hazards. And the just-released Child Opportunity Index 2.0 shows that this lack of opportunity ultimately ends up equating to lower life expectancy. 

So, the health and wellbeing of many Colorado kids and families has very little to do with choice. A resolution to eat more healthy foods is impossible without a nearby grocery store that stocks fresh produce. A resolution to get in shape falls flat when there aren’t any safe places to walk, run or play. And a digital detox is irrelevant when the family cell phone bill sometimes must go unpaid. 

At Boys & Girls Clubs, we know that understanding community needs is where our work begins. It’s not surprising: research shows that when the philanthropic, nonprofit and government sectors invest in high-poverty communities, we can transform them into places of opportunity. Our Jack A. Vickers Boys & Girls Club at the Nancy P. Anschutz Center tells exactly this story. 

Our Club is in an area that used to be home to Holly Square Shopping Center, in Northeast Park Hill. The Holly, as it was widely known, was a source of neighborhood pride, particularly for African AmericansAt its high point in the 1960s and 1970sbusinesses were thriving, and the Holly was the heart and soul of the community. However, a few decades later, the Holly had deteriorated in the face of racial tensions, poverty and gang problems – culminating in a gang-related firebombing in 2008, which left the shopping center in ruins. Many of our future Club members were faced with violence in their neighborhood on nearly a daily basis. There were no healthy choices to make other than simply trying to stay safe. 

But through innovative partnerships and a community-informed process (that was not without significant ups and downs), the Holly went through a rebirth, starting in 2009. Led by the Urban Land Conservancyworking with the Denver Foundation’s Strengthening Neighborhoods program, the Holly Area Redevelopment Project (HARP) transformed the Holly back into a hub of the community. Anchored by the Jack A. Vickers Boys & Girls Club at the Nancy P. Anschutz Center, it also includes a public library, a recreation center, an outdoor gathering space, and the Hope Center, which operates a preschool and vocational services programs. Where once there was no choice, now we can confidently say that the community members, families and kids in Northeast Park Hill have opportunity to thrive. And we are humbled and grateful to be a part of that story. 

It’s a story that is echoed throughout many of our Club neighborhoods. By investing in the Clubs, we provide our Club kids with academic support, mentorship, sports, field trips, outdoor experiences, leadership programs, and community service. While the luckiest among us get to pick our resolutions, our work at Boys & Girls Clubs focuses on actively creating the opportunity for choice – by making sure our Club kids have the resources they need, the confidence to make their dreams become reality, and a community that supports them on their journey.