Thaddius Kearney, left, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico CEO Colby Wilson recently discussed how the Rio Rancho branch helped the area’s youth cope with the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt Hollinshead photo.

As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on in the Land of Enchantment, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico ensured its youth had various means of coping with the emotional toll.
Sports. Arts and crafts. The list goes on. Those became the kids’ solace, as opposed to turning to substance abuse, self-harm or worse. And the organization’s “Positive Action” program, which was funded by PNM, made it happen.
With the state fully open again, that sense of joy became even more palpable.
“It’s awesome. It’s a great feeling,” said Christian Naea, the chief program officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico. “I think we can all say this year has been very difficult for all of us. Seeing that light at the end of the tunnel is very inspiring.”
Naea said the program reinforces dealing with issues in a positive, healthy manner by role-playing life scenarios and brainstorming positive coping mechanisms. He also said the program includes mentorships, where counselors conduct weekly mental health check-ins with the kids.
“They implemented multiple programs whenever they could, even through quarantine, when we were at home,” said club member Thaddius Kearney, 15, who occupied his time doing volunteer work and arts and crafts projects. “It definitely kept me engaged. It made me more creative coming up with ideas… It definitely got me out of whatever ruts I could’ve been in… It gives you the coping methods, the people to reach out to.”
Kearney said there were moments during the pandemic when he simply had enough of the stresses, but managed to get by because of the program. He also said one of his close friends battled depression during the pandemic, but got help through the program.
In hindsight, Naea said he’s convinced the program helped curb youth suicide rates.
“Because of COVID, nothing was stable for them,” he said.
As it waited and waited for things to improve, the Boys & Girls Club Schumann Branch on Sundt Road kept constant tabs on the kids, whether virtually or in person at a reduced capacity.
Staff members made sure the kids were OK and would still be OK by the time the state was ready to reopen.
“We provide that sense of belonging… That’s how we help overall with the mental health piece,” said Colby Wilson, the CEO of Boys & Girls Club of Central New Mexico. “The kids made it. We’re excited to be able to have them back in the facility, seeing their faces.”