Boys & Girls Club executive director: Club leaders, community came together on project

My role as CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) here at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence has been a very rewarding and humbling experience for me the past six years.

I have learned a lot and have been fortunate to be part of an organization that recently accomplished a goal that we had been working towards the past five years. On Aug. 16, we opened the Center for Great Futures — a new facility that will enable the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, to provide fun, educational, and character-building programs to five times as many teens as we previously were able to reach.

This state-of-the-art facility has a gym, performing arts center, audio and video production rooms, a makerspace, a teaching and commercial kitchen and tons of technology, classroom and multipurpose space.

At our old facility, we had 6,000 square feet and were only able to serve about 50 teens a day. But now we have a 50,000-square-foot facility, and on our first day we had 118 teens. I’m confident that as the word spreads about how cool, fun and educational this place is, that number will climb quickly.

I would like to thank the following groups and individuals for bringing the Center for Great Futures to life:

l The Boys & Girls of Lawrence board of directors, past and present.

I will never forget that board meeting almost four years ago when our passionate and dedicated board members committed to this campaign. Oct. 28, 2014 — the day our board chose the hard path.

It would have been easy to say we’re doing well enough, we’re serving 1,500 kids a day, we have a great partnership with our local school district, graduation rates are increasing, we had a National Youth of the Year winner in 2012 — we’re doing great, let’s just maintain it.

But that’s not what leaders do.

Our board dug deeper, and in doing so, they uncovered some brutal facts — such as the fact that out of the 1,500 kids we served every day, only 60 of them were middle school students, and we could count our high school members on one hand.

The reality was, at a crucial time in their lives — when they are thinking about what they will do after high school; when they are facing peer pressure around drugs, alcohol, and relationships; when they might be experiencing extreme bullying — thousands of teens in Lawrence were on their own after school and during the summertime.

Our leaders went back to the mission statement, and they asked the hard questions: “Aren’t these teens the ones who need us most? How do we help kids become productive, caring, responsible citizens if almost all of them leave the Boys & Girls Club after elementary school?”

Almost four years ago, our board confronted the brutal facts and made the decision to do the hard thing — raise $5 million and solve this problem.

l The capital campaign fundraising committee.

For the past four years, this group, led by Sue and Al Hack, has been relentless in advocating, educating and asking for financial support for this community need. It was long process that had its share of ups and downs. But their commitment to the project never wavered. This issue was too important; failure was not an option. The steady leadership that Sue and Al provided was key to the success of this campaign, and I am forever grateful that they were there to be the champions the campaign needed.

l The donors.

More than 250 businesses, individuals, foundations and government agencies combined to raise close to $6 million towards this effort. Special thanks go to Harry and Cindy Herington, who provided a lead gift very early in the process, and all of our leadership givers — Chris Barteldes, Sue and Al Hack, Sherri and Jeremy Hamm, the city of Lawrence, the Carl J. and Margot A. Johnson Foundation, R.D. Johnson, the Kriz Charitable Fund, MarLan Construction, Alice and Matt Neuman, Anne and John Poggio, the Schmidt Family Foundation, and Mary and Jeff Weinberg.

l USD 497.

This project simply would not have happened if weren’t for the partnership efforts of our great school district. Granting us the land and the opportunity to connect to the College and Career Center was a game-changer in our efforts to serve more teens and serve them better. Having access to the academic, technology, and multipurpose spaces already existing in the College and Career Center gave us the opportunity provide a 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility while only actually having to build 17,000 square feet.

In addition, USD 497 provided the money to build the culinary and commercial kitchen space. Together, we will utilize both facilities during school, after school and all summer long.

l The Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence employees, past and present.

The work that our staff does with more than 3,000 kids every year gave us the credibility, trust, and positive image in this community necessary to achieve our campaign goals. Since Lawrence’s first Boys & Girls Club facility opened at 10th and Massachusetts streets in 1974, dedicated youth development professionals have been impacting the lives of young people in Lawrence. Their passion and dedication is the foundation on which we build our future plans.

In gratitude, I look forward to following through on our promise that more teens will graduate high school with a plan for the future, such as attending a four-year college, pursuing a trade or a skill, post-secondary education or military service, to name a few.

Thank you!

• Colby Wilson is the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.

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