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How The Boys & Girls Clubs Of Puerto Rico Helps Youths Rise Above Poverty

For most people, it’s easy to forget that before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last fall, the territory’s economy was already a disaster. But not Olga Ramos, who took over as President of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico just two months prior.

With a successful 13-year career at Walmart and having spent eight years on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico, Ramos had decided it was time for a change.

“What I did was great in the business sector, but then I think that as a Puerto Rican myself I have to make sure that I leave a legacy and that I work to make a difference,” says Ramos, who was a featured guest at the recent Beet Retreat in the City. In this interview with Phil Cowdell, Global President, Client Services at GroupM, Ramos explains how the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico—which is affiliated with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and has just celebrated its 50th year—had decided to shift its focus in the face of an economic crisis that has lasted for more than a decade.

Several years before Hurricane Maria, “We decided that we needed to do things differently. In order to prepare our kids and youth to be prepared for what the future has in store for them.”

At one of its 13 club houses, the organization set about trying to change “the systemic conditions in which our kids live” by concentrating on training them to benefit from tourism. From ages six to 12, youths began to learn about the tourism culture. “When they’re teens, we work with them on entreprenuership. We start putting that seed in their minds that there are things you can think through, there are things that you can come up with. You can have your own business or you can work through another business,” says Ramos.

Part of the effort involved training parents and guardians as well. “It’s about home stability and changing the conditions for the kids. The kids do not choose to live poor or to be born poor,” she adds.

This is different than in the U.S., where the focus is mainly in children, notes Cowdell, who along with many other GroupM representatives became active in Puerto Rico relief efforts immediately after Hurricane Maria struck. However, in Puerto Rico, “You can’t just help the child, you have to help the parent as well,” he says.

Among the success stories at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico, one in particular stands out to Cowdell and Ramos, who had mentored a young girl in her high school years and was determined to help her succeed through college and beyond. “We had to involve her mother because it was a single mother trying to let her only girl go out and study,” Ramos recalls. The girl had posted grades of 4.0 in both high school and college, where she studied chemical engineering and won summer internships to Harvard, Georgetown and Ohio State University.

She eventually made her way to NASA with assistance from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico.

“Everyone has human potential,” says Cowdell. Then he asks Ramos about the future.

“I think there’s hope,” she says. “Puerto Ricans are resilient.”

At a reception following Beet Retreat in the City, there was an auction to assist the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico. So far, that effort has raised more than $20,000.

This video was produced at the Beet Retreat in City & Town Hall on June 6, 2018 in New York City. The event and video series are presented by LiveRamp, TiVo, true[X] and 605. For more videos from the series, please visit this page.