Chelsy Warmerdam knows firsthand the importance and power of The Friendship Club.
As a seventh-grader at a new school, a teacher referred Warmerdam to the organization.
“I switched schools and I didn’t know anybody,” she says. “But I wasn’t really sure why I was at The Friendship Club.”
More than a decade later, Warmerdam knows why. The after-school program had tutors help with her homework, assisted with her college applications, awarded her a much-appreciated college scholarship and opened the door to new friendships – and opportunities.
“I also remember having somebody worry about me,” says Warmerdam, who recently was promoted to Program Manager of The Friendship Club.
Today, she wants girls to have the same experience.
The now 26-year-old program “builds upon itself every year,” says Warmerdam, who earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from California State University, Chico.
Warmerdam graduated from college, got married and started a new job with The Friendship Club in May 2016. She is the first Friendship Club alum to rise to a management position in the organization.
“For 15 years, we have tried to hire alums whenever possible and many have served in assistant roles,” says Bright Futures for Youth Executive Director Jennifer Singer. “But Chelsy working her way into the Program Manager role for The Friendship Club really is a full circle moment for this organization and represents an opportunity for those with lived experience to give back to the populations that we serve.”
‘For girls who need extra love and support’
The Friendship Club circle has definitely expanded, from about six girls per age group (also called a cohort) to more than 20 today, but the goals remain the same as when Warmerdam joined as a nervous seventh-grader in 2006.
“It’s for girls who need a little extra love and support in their life,” Warmerdam says. The program also helps girls learn “how to be a good friend, healthy relationships, stress management, health and wellness goal-setting, and connecting with the community through volunteering. And, how to be an important part of society.”
It’s a lifelong lesson that Warmerdam learned as a young girl, and a responsibility she embraces as a staff member and now Program Manager of The Friendship Club.
Gratitude is also emphasized with The Friendship Club. The after-school program has girls share their good news during every meeting.
“It’s when the girls share something good in their life,” she says. “It’s a tradition I remember doing. When we are constantly thinking of all the bad things in our lives, it gets heavy. So, changing our mindset at least once in a while can help us see the good. It’s one of the things that I don’t let them skip.”
Warmerdam has plenty of good news in her life. She and her husband bought land almost four years ago, and are close to finishing their home. It’s definitely a labor of love; the couple are building the house, from the framing to the electrical and plumbing.
“If you can make it through building a house (with your partner), you’re good to go,” says Warmerdam, who works on the house in the evenings and weekends. “You can do anything when you have to, and put your mind to it. I’m humbled and very fortunate to have it. It’s all a dream … and a nice Christmas present.”