By Sarah Colson
“This is the best after-school program ever!” So said fifth-grader Bella Poms when asked about the Boys & Girls Club of Johnson City and Washington County, located off of West Market Street in Johnson City. Poms has been attending the after-school program for a year now and her favorite part is being able to have so many friends from different schools.
In 2008, the club’s financial future was dim at best, as it was nearly $100,000 in debt. The Board of Directors met frequently to discuss a plan of action.
They eventually turned to board member and now Chief Professional Officer, Robin Crumley, whose background and experience seemed to be just what the organization needed. With a marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and years of management experience, Crumley was “just switching gears” when it came to pulling the Boys & Girls Club out of debt and making some organizational shifts.
Crumley transitioned into her position as CPO in 2011 and in just over a year, the program was debt-free. Now, its only outstanding balance is limited to the $20,000 that was needed to fix the roof on the 43-year-old building.
“The way we did that was by being lean and mean,” she said. “We’ve been thinking outside the box and partnering with others. We’ve always had national support, local support and programming. What we brought back to it was structure.”
The board has collaborated with branches of the Boys & Girls Club throughout the area and has formed a coalition with clubs in Greeneville, Elizabethton, Kingsport, Bristol, Morristown and even as far as Sevierville. They meet quarterly to train and collaborate. One of the biggest learning outcomes is how to recruit and organize volunteers.
The volunteer process is simple, yet more organized than it used to be when volunteers would come and serve wherever the club needed them for that day. Now, there are forms to sign and the potential volunteers meet with the staff to determine where their skill sets might be used. Crumley’s volunteer base is diverse, from a group from Kohl’s employees which volunteers monthly, to college students from East Tennessee State University and Milligan College.
In order to not overwork her volunteers, one of Crumley’s first goals was to hire staff to spread the load in the classroom so that she could focus more on marketing and raising funds. Jared Taylor now functions as the unit director and Heather Logan is entering her fourth year as the club’s program director.
Crumley focuses on fundraising while the diverse group of kids, some of whom require special educational or developmental attention, are receiving much more notice from Taylor and Logan. Still, the trio has had to make tough decisions on which needs must be met and which can remain unaddressed until a more permanent solution can be found.
“We have to be more creative and find ways that will influence and educate our kids beyond the classroom, but still impact them and expose them to opportunities they wouldn’t normally have,” Logan said after asked to describe the most challenging aspect of her job. “Still, you can only do that with funding.”
The Boys & Girls Club has about 200 kids registered in its after-school program, all from diverse economic and familial backgrounds. This number does not include those who participate in various sports leagues. 168 students have enrolled since January alone.
Fifth grader Alyson Ross has been coming to the Boys & Girls Club for two years now and has noticed the impact it’s had, not only on her life outside of the classroom, but also on her schoolwork.
“My grades are a lot better,” she said, “and I get to play games with my friends.”
Ross and other kids ages 5-18 are not only playing games. They are receiving tutoring and participating in numerous activities, from character and leadership development to health and life skills.
“Children are 100 percent of our future,” Crumley said. “If we don’t take the time now to listen and train them, well, they’re going to be the ones taking care of us. We’re that extra help for a family to get back on track. That little bit of attention is sometimes all that’s needed.”
One way the Boys & Girls Club is being “that extra help” is by being financially realistic. Membership fees are $25 annually and each weekly fee is based on the income of the household. Registration includes figuring out that cost with the potential student’s guardians.
To ensure the club’s motto, “Great futures start here,” becomes a reality, Crumley and her staff are getting creative when it comes to planning for the future. Johnson City will build a new road straight through the club’s football fields. In return, the city will pay to rebuild the club’s fields and shift its property line back. In addition to this change, Crumley and the board are in conversation about rebuilding the outdated building. In the past, there has been discussion about moving to an entirely new location. Crumley said that is not going to happen.
“This is a great location,” she said, “and the thing that was appealing to us to move is that the building is in disrepair. But we’ve now met with an architect and we know roughly what it’s going to cost to bring this to the bones and rebuild or to place it on the same location, just a different spot, and the benefits to either of those.”
The next step in the process for The Boys & Girls Club is to hold a campaign to fund the building project, which will cost an estimated $3 to $5 million depending on design plans.
The fundraising task does not worry Crumley. Rather, she is excited about reaching out to a community that has always shown support in the past.
“We all touch a kid’s life,” Crumley said, “and this might be our opportunity to give back. Doing nothing is not an option. Our hands have been tied and now we’ve started a vision and we’re going to continue to work on that.”