One hardworking Chicago teen and his Boys & Girls Club got a big dose of hope when the Panda Cares Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Panda Express, chose their Club for a renovation to support kids and teens in having a vibrant, safe, and fun place to call their own.
Growing up in Chicago, Brian, a college freshman and Club alumni, felt fortunate to find Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, CC's Little Village Club, which he refers to as his second home.
At the Club, Brian found his “village” that got him through some hard times in life, including the death of his father. While his family grieved and adapted during this loss, Brian grew up fast – assuming many adult responsibilities to support his family, such as helping siblings with homework and helping his mom cook.
The Club was always there for him, a place he could find caring adults, fun with friends, and time for himself, and he wondered about the possibilities for other kids if someone would invest in a space that was shiny and new. He knew upgrades to the Club would do wonders for the people he cared for most and help bring more kids to this home-away-from-home.
In 2022, Brian’s hope become a reality thanks to Panda Cares Centers of Hope. CC’s Little Village Boys & Girls Club is one of 35 Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation selected to transform a space at their Club into a Center of Hope, complete with things like a new library of books, computers, comfortable lounge pods and spaces for youth to learn, engage and grow.
“I am excited for the Center of Hope because it’s our first dedicated space for our teens that expands the activities offered to them,” said Edgar Abarca, Club Director of CC’s Little Village Boys & Girls Club, and former Club kid himself. “They can come here for homework help, to learn about STEM, and many more things that get them excited every day.”
For Edgar, becoming a father gave him a greater appreciation for the “it takes a village” approach to raising children. It’s only deepened his passion for his job, as he sees daily how families rely on the Club to help their kids have safe, healthy, and happy childhoods. “We’re really important for the neighborhood because I don’t know that there would be too many safe places for our kids to play basketball, to meet friends and to be part of a lot of different activities,” said Edgar. The Club’s staff work tirelessly to provide that support – and with the Center of Hope, they’re excited to give Club teens a place to be proud of and call their own.
Brian was speechless when walking into the newly renovated Center of Hope. “It has brand new lights, clean white walls and vibrant touches of orange,” he said. The Center of Hope grand opening brought even more surprises when Panda Cares awarded Brian a $10,000 scholarship for college. “I owe this to my mom, who made so many sacrifices, and now being able to pay $10,000 debt-free for school is amazing.”
Young people not only need safe spaces and caring, adult mentors but also places outside of school where they can continue to grow academically. Project Learn, a researched-based program that focuses on fun afterschool activities to boost students’ school performance, will be the foundation of all Centers of Hope, with the ultimate goal of supporting young people’s character building, academic success and college access.
“Thanks for investing in our neighborhood and motivating my staff and me to serve our Club and community,” said Edgar. He looks forward to using the new space to provide incredible programming for youth, helping young people grow into successful adults.