Real Options for City Kids, or R.O.C.K. for short, is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that provides active and enriching programs to youth living in the working class neighborhood of Visitacion Valley. R.O.C.K. gives kids in this underserved community a chance to participate in activities they wouldn’t normally have access to, such as sports, outdoor adventures and a variety academic programs. Thanks to a partnership with United Airlines, you can donate MileagePlus miles to this worthy charity.
R.O.C.K. was founded in 1994 by Michelle Groe. She worked with homeless adults and realized that many of the problems they faced began in childhood. She decided to start R.O.C.K. to help provide a stable, safe and nurturing space for at-risk youth. To achieve that goal, R.O.C.K. offers a variety of programs that emphasize learning enrichment as well as sports and fitness.
Through these activities R.O.C.K. strives to teach kids to be productive by engaging in positive experiences; to connect by building positive relationships with adults and peers; and to navigate life by participating in responsible and meaningful activities.
While San Francisco has changed dramatically in the last 20 years thanks in part to an influx of money from Silicon Valley, Visitacion Valley lags behind in terms of income and access to resources. Many of the kids that participate in R.O.C.K.’s activities live with their families in public housing developments in the neighborhood. One of those complexes is among the most violent in the city.
The lack of access to the best academic, cultural and social resources is reflected in the large number of children in the area that test below average on national standard tests. More than three quarters of sixth- through eighth-grade students scored below the proficiency level in math, and over 60 percent of second-through eighth-grade students scored below the proficiency level in English/Language Arts.
The economic challenges are clear, too. Most of the students in Visitacion Valley qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. Immigrant families face additional challenges as they learn English as a second language. They make up a quarter of the student population.
In other words, the need for R.O.C.K. is real.
What R.O.C.K. Does
R.O.C.K. continues to grow and now serves over 500 kids between the ages of 6 and 17 every year. The program is so successful that it was named the lead agency for afterschool programs for the neighborhood’s elementary and middle school.
The city of San Francisco also asked R.O.C.K. to assume management of the Visitasion Valley community center in 2010 because it was no longer providing the quality of services needed by the community. Today the center is very popular, with over 20 staff members serving hundreds of kids every year through a wide variety of programming.
R.O.C.K. offers many other services to kids of all ages, too. One of its signature programs is Skill Drills. On Saturday mornings during the school year, first- through fifth-grade boys and girls are invited to participate in soccer, basketball and volleyball sports clinics that focus on noncompetitive skill development and team building. It’s a safe place for kids to learn important life skills and enjoy outdoor fitness.
Another popular program is R.O.C.K.’s overnight camps. Groups of up to 100 elementary, middle and high school kids are taken on camping trips throughout the year to various locations throughout California. These trips offer city kids access to activities they may not otherwise have, such as backpacking, whitewater rafting and snowboarding.
One of the more recent initiatives R.O.C.K. has undertaken is an in-school program. Learning assistants are available to provide classroom support when needed. The program also targets very high risk youth by giving them personal attention throughout the day, including regular check-ins with staff members.
R.O.C.K. and United Airlines
R.O.C.K. was featured in 2010 as part of the TODAY show’s Lend A Hand series that focuses on small nonprofits around the country that improve conditions in their communities. Al Roker visited and brought with him $1.2 million in donated goods from a variety of organizations.
United Airlines was among those generous organizations, donating miles to R.O.C.K. That partnership continues today. In addition to giving miles, the airline also donates travel vouchers that R.O.C.K. can auction off for cash donations.
United encourages its MileagePlus members to donate miles, too. According to Curt Yagi, the Executive Director of R.O.C.K., most of the mileage donations are used to pay for van rentals to transport kids. It doesn’t take much to make a difference. “About 10,000 miles can pay for transit for a one-day activity,” says Yagi. It’s a big help, particularly for out of town activities such as overnight camps.
If you have even a few extra United miles to donate you know they’ll be put to good use. The type of life experiences R.O.C.K. offers the kids in this underserved community through outdoor activities, afterschool programs, in-school support and organized sports are invaluable to their success now and in the future.