While the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Antonio has long provided after-school and summer services for vulnerable youth, one area of care has been missing.

That missing piece of the puzzle has become more pronounced in recent years as young people have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic and in the aftermath of repeated school shootings.

Now, thanks to an $840,000 grant from Baptist Health Foundation, mental health care will take its place among the clubs’ offerings this summer.

“Our overarching goal is for kids to graduate high school on time, with a clear and concise plan for their future — whether that be higher education, whether that be a trade [or] some type of certificate, but we want them to be really excited about what their future holds for them,” said Ada Saenz, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Antonio.

“When you’re dealing with a mental health issue, it’s really hard to see past today, much less, ‘What I’m gonna do after I graduate?'” Saenz said. “So this is a critical piece in terms of overcoming the traumas that they’re experiencing in their life.”

The new Resiliency Restored program will begin as a three-year pilot. The club will hire two licensed, professional counselors and a clinical director who will serve an estimated 800 kids this year and at least 1,000 in each of the following two years.

Instead of staff having to find affordable and accessible therapists for kids externally, which is extremely difficult, Saenz said, they will “have it right here at their fingertips.”

Kids ages 6 to 18 who attend Boys and Girls Clubs activities are already provided transportation to six clubhouses and 19 on-campus after-school sites across San Antonio. They can be referred to the in-house therapists by club staff, school administration, parents — or even by the children themselves.

The program will offer large and small group sessions, one-on-one sessions and family therapy, Saenz said.

Because staff has already built trust with the children, most of whom come from low-income families, she expects demand for therapy will be high.

“Through that relationship that they build, a lot of times [kids] feel safe to divulge things that are going on in their life,” she said. Most staff don’t have the training to deal with mild or serious mental illnesses — but by this summer, they will have a colleague who does.

Many kids come from single-parent or grandparent homes struggling to prioritize food and shelter, she said. “Other things, unfortunately for these families, become luxury items … especially things like mental health or tutoring.”

The annual membership fee for the local club is $100 per child, per school year and scholarships are available for those who cannot afford it.

“We would never turn a child away just because their family could not pay,” she said.

Saenz has already started looking for funds to sustain the program beyond the three-year pilot, and has pending requests for federal pandemic relief funds through both the city and Bexar County.

San Antonio and Bexar County have received hundreds of millions in American Rescue Plan Act money, and mental health has been a focus for both. The city has earmarked at least $26 million for mental health and $10 million to be spent on youth programs, while the county has committed nearly $35 million to bolster mental health care in schools, jail and county residents in general.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org