Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach adds dedicated space for teen wellness
The Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach has a new dedicated space for its middle schoolers, as the club recently debuted its teen well space and recreation area.
Looking to address what club officials have referred to as an “epidemic of loneliness,” the organization partnered with the nonprofit Design With Purpose to convert two of its upstairs rooms into a stimulating hangout for its teens.
“We used to have a separate wing of the building for teens, for middle-schoolers,” Pam Estes, chief executive of the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, said. “When the pandemic hit and we reopened to serve kids, we had to rearrange things, so we repurposed that space for our younger kinder-kids, and we moved our middle-schoolers upstairs to our community room. It had a very institutional feel to it.”
The $40,000 conversion was largely funded by individual donors, Estes said. Known to its members as “The Loft,” the recreation area includes gaming tables for ping-pong, billiards and Foosball. It also has an arts corner where kids can paint, and for those interested in practicing a different kind of art, there are also guitars and a piano. They are expected to be accompanied by an area for e-sports soon.
Estes indicated that the club currently serves between 20 and 30 middle school students daily. She hopes the new additions to the club lead to a rise in social skills, which she said she feels have been hampered by the pandemic and a device-centric society.
“Across the board with kids, social skills and self-regulation are the biggest things that we’ve seen a little bit of a regression in,” Estes added. “I think it’s from being isolated, as well as the world we live in. There’s so much conflict today. They’re like sponges.”
Aaron Crosby, 14, an eighth-grade student at Thurston Middle School, has had fun utilizing the new facility, even if he squandered a seven-ball lead in a game of billiards against his friend during Thursday’s open-house event. Most of the time, he has adhered to a steady diet of ping-pong and video games, taking on all comers.
“My mom works in Anaheim, so she can’t pick me up until later,” Aaron said. “It’s perfect that I get to come here and have fun every day after school.”
Aaron added that he joined the club last summer and has seen marked improvement with the renovations, especially coming out of the pandemic.
“It means a lot [to] finally have a space where we can play with our friends after two or so years of not being around them at all,” Aaron said. “It’s just nice.”
Deana Duffek, the founder of Design With Purpose, said the organization formed with a mission to provide healing environments for kids that had been in the hospital. The nonprofit has since partnered with Children’s Hospital of Orange County and the Orange County Department of Education to bring well spaces to middle and high schools across the county.
“What we’re doing in these well spaces is creating kind of a boho-type zen vibe that gives the kids a safe space to go and to be,” Duffek said. “We’re using trauma-informed design techniques, as well as the biophilic design approach, and giving them all the tools that they need to really learn how to self-soothe and self-regulate.
“Some of those might be three minutes of mindful movement or breathwork or different fidgets within the space to help them calm their central nervous system.”
The well space is outfitted with yoga mats and QR codes that give the kids and staff access to mindful movement exercises. The cushions and seats are arranged in a circle to help facilitate discussions.
“You’re not going to a place because you have an issue,” Duffek said. “We’re creating a space that encourages mindfulness and mental health. What we’re trying to do is normalize mental health. Just like every school has a cafeteria, we’d like every school to have a well space.”
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