(Rockwall – November 18, 2012) The Boys & Girls Club of Rockwall County is celebrating the season with a special holiday breakfast honoring “Angels Among Us” – those who have helped the youth development organization to not only survive, but thrive over the past year.
For CEO Misti Potter, this is a magical time – when the Rockwall BGC Youth of the Year is announced, and the public has an opportunity to see first-hand how the club is changing lives and developing future leaders.
Registration is underway and sponsorships are available for the event, which will be 7:30 to 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 7 at the Hilton Dallas/Rockwall Lakefront.
“The community has really wrapped its arms around this club,” said Potter, who took the reigns in April 2011. At the time, BGC-Rockwall was experiencing financial trouble, declining participation, and problems with public perception. “We worked through a lot of challenges and made a lot of changes. It’s had a powerful impact on the number of children we serve and the quality of programming we provide. This summer we couldn’t get kids signed up fast enough.”
Average daily attendance for the summer was 200 – peaking at 214 – an increase of 43%. More than 400 children were enrolled, with 50% showing up every day.
“Most clubs serve only 20 to 24% of their membership,” Potter explained. “We had a waiting list for the first three weeks, which has never happened before in the history of this organization. I’ve honestly never experienced such positive growth in all the years I’ve been doing this.”
Potter has poured her energy into the nonprofit world and BGCA for more than 15 years. Experiencing the impact in her own neighborhood is “like a nice ribbon on the whole package,” she said. “I love seeing kids smile when they enter our doors. I love walking through the club. I love the smells. I love watching a child go from being shy to being overt. I love everything you can possibly imagine about watching kids succeed.”
Potter credits the club’s phenomenal growth to a strong Board; an amazing staff; and a program “that bar none is not comparable to anything else that is going on at this point.”
“Stephen Straughan, our Board Chair, did a fantastic job restructuring our board,” Potter said. “Our Board members understand what it takes to move the needle on this organization, and they are dedicated to that.”
Straughan recently earned a Bronze Service Medal from BGCA for his work with the club. Potter was appointed to two National Committees on Professional Mentoring and a Professional Advisory Council to BGCA President, Jim Clark.
The success of BGC-Rockwall’s summer program came on the heels of a notable end to the 2011-12 school year, when the club saw 100% of its kids graduate from high school or pass to the next grade level – and 84% did it with a B average or higher. The club’s holistic approach to serving kids helped achieve those results.
“We take a hard look at each child, find out what their individual needs are and develop a specific plan,” Potter explained. “The club has become an extended education opportunity for the school district. We just did our first report card roundup for this school year. If students scored 79 or below in reading, writing, math or science, a letter went home asking parents for access to their child’s teachers. Then we asked teachers which areas these students need help in, and we provide that help to get them to a B average or higher.”
Stephan Larson, Director of Program Services, says it’s “fun with a purpose.” Kids arrive after school and immerse themselves in Power Hour – quiet time dedicated to homework and tutoring – incentivized by earning Power Points that can be used to shop for prizes.
Then they rotate through program areas like Fitness (open gym, basketball, volleyball, kickball, badminton, soccer, Train Up); Gameroom (bumper pool, ping pong, foosball, board games); Performing Arts (hip hop by Dance and Arts Connection); time in the Art Studio, Library, and the new Technology Lab, donated by Tech Corps Texas.
“Kids find a sense of belonging here; they feel valued,” Potter said. “Fifth and sixth graders take on leadership roles in our Torch Club. They conduct club tours for our guests – even operate their own concession stand.”
The concession stand was recently renovated by Bimbo Bakeries and Nestle. Nestle donates the majority of the candy, translating into 100% profit for the club.
For older kids, BGC-Rockwall introduced a teen outreach program called “The Club,” designed to draw teens in for evening activities in a safe and drug-free environment. Community partners include Train Up and Shenaniganz. Future activities may involve events at The Harbor.
Potter is thrilled with the progress that BGC-Rockwall has made, but says work still needs to be done, and funding is crucial.
“We can’t settle for mediocrity. If we’re not pushing for every ounce of success for our kids, then we’re not only failing as an organization, but we’re failing the future leaders of our community. Some day these kids are going to be running for Mayor, or City Council, or running our companies. If we’re not taking care of them now the way we should be, then it’s our fault if there’s failure later on,” Potter said.
“More than 5,000 kids qualify for free or reduced lunches in our community; that’s a lot of kids that need service,” she added. “Many kids come home to an empty house afterschool; parents are working, sometimes two jobs. This is when crime is the highest for juveniles – because they have nothing to do. Our primary objective is to get kids in the club, because then we know they are doing something productive.”
Transportation is the club’s biggest hurdle right now. Potter is grateful that a donor recently supplied funds for the club to purchase a van, which runs a couple of school routes.
“I honestly believe if we had full transportation, we would be serving 300 kids a day,” said Potter. “If every parent in town knew we had the ability to get their kids here, they would be here.”
Expansion into other areas is being considered. A goal has been set to open a club in Royse City within a year. Potter also looks forward to the long-term goal of having a standalone facility – one that the whole community could benefit from, like a multipurpose sports complex or a facility large enough to host conferences or graduations.
“Who knows,” she said, “the sky’s the limit. I’d like to see no less than 500 kids a day – a very ambitious goal. But if we’re not going to serve all the kids, why are we here? We must try our best to reach every child – not just the poor kids or the at-risk kids, but all kids. Everything we do is for the kids.”
Story by Dawn Redig. Photos by Blue Ribbon News. All rights reserved.
PROUD SUPPORTER OF THE BOYS & GIRLS CLUB