Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee

BGCGM’s mission is simple: to inspire and empower all young people, especially those who need it most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.

In 1887, when Annabell Cook Whitcomb transformed two basement rooms at Plymouth Church in downtown Milwaukee into a club for children, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM) was born. The organization now serves more than 40,000 young people, both boys and girls, at 44 locations across greater Milwaukee, making the clubs the oldest and largest youth-serving agency in the area.

In order to support the unique needs of youth, and with a $28 million operating budget, BGCGM offers hundreds of programs within six core areas: Education and Career Development; the Arts; Adolescent and Holistic Health Initiatives; Sports, Fitness, and Recreation; Outdoor Environment and Education; and Character and Leadership.

  1. Location

    Milwaukee, WI

  2. Number of Full-Time Staff


  3. Program Name

    Can You Hear Us Now?

  4. Program Type

    Poetry and Community Service

  5. Youth Served

    Minority teens exposed to extreme effects of poverty and violence

  6. Website

About the Program

For the SEL Challenge, BGCGM focused on the Can You Hear Us Now? (CYHUN) program. This youth-led advocacy program started in 2011 at the LaVarnway Boys & Girls Club which serves approximately 50 teens between the ages of 12 and 18 each year. The CYHUN program provides teens an artistic platform to express themselves through media and art, and the guidance to address issues that are affecting them. Each year the youth collectively decide on an important issue to focus on and learn the technical skills associated with a particular artistic medium (e.g., videography, photography, poetry).

In 2011, youth wrote and performed a theatrical production titled The Block is Hot: The Victim’s Perspective of the Impact of Gun Violence. In 2012, youth participants organized several community events, including an open mic night called SPEAK OUT: Survivors and Advocates Against Sexual Violence. And in 2013, youth were the focus of a documentary entitled The Voice: The Power of Youth Voice in Changing Society, as well as a public service announcement about the impact of suicide.


CYHUN’s artistic workshop model provides youth with experiences to increase their self-awareness and uses the arts as a medium to communicate with the larger community about issues that affect their lives.

Through participating in the program activities and by sharing their emotionally charged experiences with the group, youth gain the necessary skills and confidence to appropriately advocate for themselves and make positive changes in their lives.


CYHUN is different from the drop-in “gym and swim” programs that nationwide Boys & Girls Clubs are known for. For the program to be successful, youth must commit to attending the weekly sessions on a regular basis for the duration of the program year (which corresponds to the school year). There are also a variety of field trips offered throughout the year that expose youth to adults in a variety of professions related to the chosen issue or media genre. The program topic changes each year and are developed by the youth.

About the Staff

In CYHUN, staff members represent constant, positive figures in teens’ lives. At the core, they are someone the teens can trust and confide in, and the youth fully understand that staff members have their best interests at heart. For many of the participants, this trust between themselves and staff takes time and often, it is the repeated exposure and presence of staff alone that gains this trust.

For CYHUN, it is critical to have a team of staff who are able to relate to and serve as mentors for youth. Facilitators must be willing to commit their time to the teens and to take an active role, which means being available outside of the weekly sessions. The staff that lead CYHUN often attend activities that the teens are a part of, such as sporting events, performances, or graduations, in order to show their love and support for the teens extends beyond the program. The underlying theme for CYHUN is love. The youth experience the staff caring for them in a way that they may never have experienced before.

All of the staff working in CYHUN have a background working with at-promise (rather than at-risk) youth. To fully support the teen members, staff attend workshops and specific trainings that relate to social and emotional learning. CYHUN staff are trained to work with at-promise youth and are prepared to deal with strong emotions. Staff will provide teens with additional resources, such as contact information for a counselor or further support groups, if they feel it is in the best interest of the youth.

Tips and Tools from Staff

Case Narrative

To read more about how Can You Hear Us Now? implements social and emotional learning, download their case narrative here.

Learn more about the best practices for social and emotional learning.

Download the guide