Josann McGibbon, writer and executive producer of the Disney “Descendants” trilogy, worked with the team at Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley to bring hope and excitement to local youth through the current stay-at-home order.
“Kids and writing are my two favorite things in the world,” McGibbon said. “After COVID-19 struck and everyone isolated, I was even more passionate about helping children process what they were experiencing through the written word.”
Beginning shortly after the stay-at-home order was set, McGibbon contacted the Club to plan a writing program that would get kids and teens engaged and creating art.
Together McGibbon and Club staff developed the “B.C.” Writing Contest (“Before Coronavirus”), a two-week writing workshop to help students write about their stay-at-home experience.
“(McGibbon) gave us insight on what skills were important for screenwriting, such as dialogue and formatting,” said Margaret Waggoner, Club art coordinator. “We worked with our staff to develop a few classes that practiced these skills in an informal, game-style format.”
Markie Cortez, Teen Coordinator at the Club, was one of the staff members who worked with McGibbon to develop the program.
“Working on this was an amazing experience and having the guidance of Josann along the way was a huge help. The staff benefitted greatly from her being on board and her efforts aided in quickly creating an engaging and challenging prompt for our kids,” Cortez said.
Creating a fulfilling program was a challenge for the team, who were just learning how to navigate their new roles in a virtual format while adapting to the new norm themselves.
“When the orders were first given in March, our team quickly adapted,” said Club CEO Matthew Nelson. “We redesigned our program model to accommodate a remote workforce and creatively meet our Club members’ needs from a distance. Our kids and teens need us now more than ever. Thanks to the generous support of SoCal Gas, the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley is playing a critical role in meeting their social and emotional needs. Virtual programming, wellness check phone calls, letter-writing, and grab-and-go activities are all part of our new model. I am incredibly impressed with how well the team has adapted. Some of us are facing our own challenges at home.”
However, Club members had been through many difficult situations and the staff was determined to bring them something special.
“Our children have experienced a shooting, a fire and a pandemic within months of each other,” Waggoner said. “They deserved something extraordinary.”
“This was something we had never done before, in so many ways,” said Megan Martin Del Campo, Club program director. “Our typical teaching platform is not online. To see everyone come together recruiting kids in record time was amazing.”
At the “B.C.” Writing Contest’s final meeting, Club staff and members reflected on what members had learned, played games and celebrated their completed works.
Award recipients include:
· Perfect Attendance: Sophia Moreno
· Start Late, Finish Strong: Lacey Couto
· 1st Submission: Maryah Singelton
· Most Determined Writer: Isi Eichie
· Biggest Heart Write: Donald Smith
· Excellent Screenwriting Form: Acacia Smith
· Butterfly Participation Award: Donae Smith
Secretly, McGibbon was in the online waiting room dressed in her Emmy Awards ceremony gown.
“I’m pretty playful, especially when there are children to amuse,” she said. “I loved (the Club staff’s) enthusiasm and joyful approach to their work and wanted to show that goofiness is good for everyone!”
Martin Del Campo was watching the online waiting room during the event. While Club staff engaged with participants, she counted down the time before the grand unveiling.
After 15 minutes, McGibbon entered the room.
“The children were shocked and ready to ask all their burning ‘Descendants’ questions. They had never had an opportunity like this, and you could tell their eyes were lighting up and they were ready,” Del Campo said.
For the rest of the meeting, McGibbon talked to Club members about their submissions and imparted wisdom and encouragement. She answered questions about the “Descendants” series and talked about her personal experience as a writer.
Eleven-year-old Club member Lacey Couto, an aspiring actress and playwright, talked about how important this was to her.
“Josann’s words about my story made me feel confident in my writing,” Couto said. “(H)earing such positive feedback from a successful writer made me want to write more in the future.”
Isibhakhemhe Eichie, 13 years old, Club member and recipient of an art scholarship through the Hank Aaron “Chasing the Dream” Scholarship, was also touched by the surprise.
“I was greatly honored to be in the presence of someone so talented and also the creator of a series I admire,” Eichie said. “I can confidently say that I was positively impacted by every word that came out of her mouth and that she has inspired me to work harder.”
The students were not the only ones surprised. McGibbon noted how the students’ work was beyond her expectation and showed great literary promise.
“I can always find something good to say about someone’s work, but the quality of these entries was truly and profoundly terrific,” she said. “It was inspiring on every level.”
In true Disney fashion, McGibbon proved to the students that the world still is a magical place.
Founded in 1968, Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley provides, academic support, a second home, and builds leaders for more than 5,000 local youth. Membership is just $60 a year for the first child and $45 for each additional sibling (scholarships available).
Learn about the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley and how to enroll your child in virtual programming at www.scvbgc.org.
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