April 6, 2022
Omar Zapata, Director of Program Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme
Every month we feature stories of individuals and agencies that are making a difference in their communities during these challenging times since COVID-19. Today we are talking with Omar Zapata, M.S., Director of Program Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
How did you get interested in the field of expanded education and public community service?
Omar: I have been blessed to have grown up in this wonderful coastal County of Ventura that I have called home my entire life. My parents have always been a big part of my life and encouragement to higher education. I have been working in Public Service for over 25 years and going on 15 years with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme (BGCOP).
When did you get involved with your work at BGCOP?
Omar: I am a former alumni of the Ventura Boys & Girls Club as a youth. My journey with BGCOP began almost 15 years ago. Our Mission is to “to inspire and enable all youth, especially those who need us most, to realize their full potential, as productive, responsible and caring citizens.” The purpose of BGCOP is to provide social, educational and recreational programs to all youth ages 6-18 years old, with an emphasis on those in underserved areas. There are five core areas under which programming and special initiatives are delivered: Career & Education, Character & Leadership, Health & Life Skills, The Arts, Sports, and Fitness and Education.
What is your passion for working in the community?
Omar: My passion is empowering, mentoring, educating, providing resources, exposure and opportunities to all youth, especially those that need us the most. Growing up as a youth at risk I fully know the challenges many of our youth are facing. As Director of Program Services, I get to sustain and enhance our programming services to our youth, families and community. The BGCOP is revered in our community as an innovative and progressive youth development agency, having received numerous awards for outstanding programs and community collaborations. Numerous partnerships with school and community agencies bridge gaps in services and enhance successes to ensure youth and community have an opportunity for a great future.
How are you specifically addressing issues of Health Equity in your work and your community?
Omar: Having a supportive CEO, Erin Antrim, and a great BGCOP team is our foundation to addressing these issues. We provide services to underserved families and communities and educate on the importance of Healthy Lifestyles.
How are you making a difference?
Omar: I am a big believer in collaborating and partnering with other agencies to unite and address Health Equity. We have provided sports and recreation, healthy cooking classes, mobile health clinics, social emotional support, reading and seeing eye glasses to better support students, dental and orthodontic resources, diabetes prevention camps, and more.
From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, BGCOP responded by supporting our youth and parents with their school academic distant learning. We extended our hours of operation during the summer to support our essential working families. This allowed our youth to come to our clubs with their online distant learning schedule and get the support and technology resources they needed. Our youth were able to catch up on class assignment and not fall behind in school. Our youth development professionals mentored and assisted our youth with their academic distant learning. We provided a free healthy lunch and snacks to all our youth and free grab & go lunch to our community families. We did targeted outreach providing educational flyers at our surrounding clubs locations, Nyeland Acres, Ormond Beach, Harriet H. Samuelsson Teen Center, Martin V. Smith and Port Hueneme Club distributing educational information of club services and vaccinations.
BGCOP collaborated with Ventura County Public Health and provided vaccine information directly to all parents/guardians when children are signed in and out of or clubs. We hosted Vaccination Mobile Clinics at our locations focusing on the high need underserved areas in Oxnard and Port Hueneme. Our organization was part of the Vaccine Outreach and Awareness Committee that helped planned outreach and communication to underserved areas.
What are the areas that you hope to make changes in?
Omar: In my position I am able to support change by being a part of community, and organizational committees, Dignity Health Community Board and most importantly sharing and promoting our organizations (BGCOP) three priority outcome area’s “Academic Success, Healthy Lifestyles and Character & Citizenship. I am able to share the importance of youth services, education, resources and the benefits of being a positive mentor. Having positive mentors has a powerful effect on young people in a variety of personal, academic, health, and professional situations. Mentoring youth, young adults, future leaders, gives opportunities, connects youth and all to personal growth and development, and social and better economic opportunities.
Tell us one thing about you that helps us get to know you better?
Omar: Both of my parents immigrated from Mexico and became dual citizens. Being first generation and growing up as an at risk youth, I first hand know the challenges our community parents and youth are facing, such as language, cultural and growing up as a latchkey youth. My passion derives from having supportive, loving parents, positive mentors, overcoming many challenges and having successes in my life. My parents and mentors instilled in me the importance of family values, work ethics, education and community. After graduating from graduate school I knew I wanted to give back and do public service.
If you could give a closing remark for or words of inspiration for the community during this time, what would it be?
Omar: Mentoring provides meaningful connections that impact the people involved, and influences their lives at home, school, work and in their communities. Planting that seed is where it begins.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme help youth reach their fullest potential through a positive environment, lifelong learning, and quality programs dedicated to the arts, education, character and leadership development, health and recreation.
Thank you Omar for sharing your experience with us. You are an inspiring Driver of Change!