Americans grow up believing they can be anything they set their minds to. But we don’t all start with the same advantages. The high-speed internet many take for granted is out of reach for some families, especially during the financial uncertainties of COVID-19. But for 150 years, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America have been a safe place where kids can meet their full potential thanks to after-school and summer programming. Tacoma’s Al Davies Branch was recently the recipient of amazing gifts thanks to the Comcast Internet Essentials program and YouTube and gaming phenom Marcel Cunningham.
On Wednesday, August 4, 2021, summer youth attendees were greeted by a festive change of pace. With a large tent set up on site, backlit gaming computers, a live DJ spinning tunes and notable guests galore, the kids spent time playing their favorite games like Mario Party, Fortnight, Minecraft and others.
This high-tech fun was sponsored by TEAM WRK, the foundation started by former Al Davies alum Marcel Cunningham, a gaming influencer who streams under the handle BasicallyIdowrk. Sierra Raynor, now Regional Manager but branch manager when Cunningham was in the program, is proud of this “amazing young man.”
Raynor recalls that Cunningham’s grandmother was a volunteer at the time and preached the importance of helping whenever you can and giving back to your community. “When he was able to give back, he thought of the Boys and Girls Club. We thank him for helping us continue our mission to level the playing field,” says Raynor.
Cunningham and Comcast together donated 100 Chromebooks, 40 for the Club and 60 to the summer’s enrolled members. The recipients also receive six months of free Xfinity internet, all made possible by the Comcast Internet Essentials broadband adoption program. “Families have had to rely on technology to make ends meet academically,” says Raynor. “This fights something that could stop them from learning and fall through the cracks.”
Not knowing the full extent of their day, kids started Wednesday’s session raucously gaming. But TEAM WRK staffers didn’t want it to be just mindless screen time. They encouraged the kids “Don’t act up or give up, level up” instead. TEAM WRK’s mission is simple: Challenge Youth to Level Up to their Full Potential.
Through videos and guidelines, kids were taught teamwork, sportsmanship, sharing and life skills like self-control, mutual respect and cheering each other on. But sitting in front of a computer, as many of us know, is hard on the body as well. For this, TEAM WRK gave tips on posture, keeping eyes level with the screen, occasionally looking away, making a move every 45 minutes and refueling with snacks and water as needed.
Gaming sessions continued with exciting breaks by such notables as former Seahawk and Al Davies alum Marcus Trufant. “I’ve been a part of some of the best teams,” he admits, “Starting right here at the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club.” He told eager listeners that teamwork requires good “communication and trust; confidence that the person next to you is going to do their job” to succeed.
Around mid-day, online sessions wrapped up, and it was time for some surprises. Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards let the kids know that “as Mayor, I work for you. If you live in the city, you’re my boss” and encouraged them to share needs and ways she can help. “As I look out, I see the next mayor, President, Marcel or entrepreneur; just be willing to work hard like you did today.” Also in attendance were Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck and Pierce County Councilman Ryan Mello.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on many of the inequities in our society, including the digital divide,” said Woodards beforehand. “In Tacoma and across the South Puget Sound, we are fortunate to have organizations like our local Boys & Girls Clubs, which serve as central meeting places and can help address the issues of access and equity if they have the resources. This is why it is exciting to see Comcast and Marcel collaborating with our local Clubs to support youth and their families and fill an important community need by providing crucial technology resources across our region.”
Then Carla Carrell, Comcast Washington’s senior director of external affairs, took the stage. She brought Marcel back up with her, where he presented a comically oversized check representing a $10,000 donation to the Al Davies branch courtesy of his foundation and Comcast Washington.
Once applause slowed, they unveiled all 40 laptops for Club use and started handing out 60 laptop bags, one to each—now excitedly squirming—child. “We’re thrilled to partner with Marcel to help give Boys & Girls Club students and families the resources to access the Internet to participate in online learning,” said Carrell in a statement. “The pandemic put many vulnerable students and families at risk of being left behind, accelerating the need for comprehensive digital equity and Internet adoption programs to support them.”
During the last school year, Pew Research discovered “roughly one-in-five parents with homebound schoolchildren say it is very or somewhat likely their children will not be able to complete their schoolwork because they do not have access to a computer at home or have to use public Wi-Fi to finish their schoolwork because there is not a reliable internet connection at home.” Now, thanks to community partnerships and caring donors, these students can look forward to whatever September brings. Until then, there’s always Marcel’s latest YouTube adventure.