The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (BGCGW) is 125 years young and still going strong.
By Jane Hess Collins
Question: What do District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Georgetown University Men’s Head Basketball Coach JohnThompson III and Roy Hibbert Jr. of the Indiana Pacers have in common?
Answer: Each of them is an alumnus of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (BGCGW).
Boys & Girls Clubs of America, one of the nation’s most well-known nonprofits that mentor, support and inspire youth up to age 18, served over 4.1 million kids in nearly 4,000 clubs throughout the country and on military installations around the world this year.
What makes the Boys and Girls Clubs so enduring? Just ask Pandit Wright, President & CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, one of the largest affiliates of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
“Character counts,” she said. Character, passion and faith in the mission are, she believes, three keys to their continued success. Knowing that some kids are not from an environment that encourages success, she and the BGCGW staff and volunteers deliberately set an example of excellence and integrity for them. “We teach our kids to say what they mean and mean what they say,” she explained. “We tell them to keep their word and treat themselves and others with respect. We tell them to expect the best of themselves.”
Wright remains realistic about her goals for her BGCGW kids, expecting them to graduate from high school with a plan for college, vocational training, a military career or other productive life path.
Not every kid can be saved, but it is her job, and that of her staff and volunteers, to prepare them for life by serving as a positive influences and mentors, despite some formidable challenges. For example, one use of the $25 annual club membership (waived if necessary) is transporting kids to BGCGW clubs if gang activity makes it too dangerous for them to walk.
It’s harder for kids today to develop their moral compass than it was a generation ago, Wright believes. The sheer volume of conflicting inputs thrown at them is overwhelming. Social media can plague a bullied student 24/7 now. Gang violence is increasing, and these pressures may prevent kids from acquiring the tools they need to make good decisions.
Resources-budget, facilities, staff, volunteers-are continuing challenges as well. The key, she said, is to build capacity, synergy and engagement among the board members and volunteer advisory groups while keeping the dollar and idea pipelines open.
Despite the obstacles, Wright gushed about her volunteers, praising them for their perspective, the exposure and opportunities they offer, and how just one volunteer or caring adult can have a life-changing impact on a child.
Wright is optimistic about what BGCGW offers to her 21,000 kids. President Barack Obama has dropped in time or two to support and encourage them. Corporate partnerships expose the kids to ideas and projects that they may never dream of otherwise, helping the kids to triumph over the negative influences in their environment. Finally, Wright is optimistic about the growing opportunities for her kids, especially the teens, to engage and give back in their communities. There are so many more things to do now, she said, and so many more places to volunteer.
Each BGCGW club offers dozens of programs focused on character and leadership development, career and education development, health and life skills, sports, fitness and recreation, and the arts.
The new Artmobile, in fact, is an acquisition that Wright is particularly excited about. A gift from the brand new Men’s Leadership Group, spearheaded by the longstanding BGCGW Women’s Leadership Group (WLG), the Artmobile will travel from club to club, allowing kids from all over greater Washington to express their creativity. Wright is passionate about the magic that the arts can bring out in a child.
Proof? The “ICON 11” gala at the Kennedy Center, hosted by the WLG, where the kids competed in “American Icon,” a kinder, gentler version of American Idol.
“Art lets kids do things they didn’t think they could,” Wright said. “You get to see other sides of them.”
One final secret to the BGCGW’s success: “They’re fun!” Wright laughed. “The kids have fun and they are our best ambassadors.”
Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.