When people hear “Boys & Girls Club,” they often think of “another great after-school program,” according to a leader in the organization.
It’s a great thing to be known for, said Kirk Dominick, Interim President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Coastal Plain, but so much more is happening in the 17 units across the seven counties of the organization.
“People know our name, know our brand, know our service,” Dominick said. “We have a high level of awareness, but I think we have a low level of understanding. I don’t think they know that much about the real impact we are having. Those who support us on a different level than those who don’t.
The Boys & Girls Club makes a difference in academics, healthy lifestyles, character and leadership, Dominick said.
After a two-year period that saw the organization shut down for nearly five months due to COVID-19 pandemic protocols and limited interaction with supporters and donors, Dominick wants 2022 to be a year that reintroduces the Boys & Girls Club in the community. The goal is not only to recruit donors and volunteers, but to attract more families to the nonprofit organization.
“The needs that we are seeing are greater than ever before,” Dominick said. “After 18-24 months of the pandemic’s impact, we are seeing children with greater levels of learning loss. We are seeing children with more social and mental insecurity than ever before. “
Families also face more financial hardship, he said.
“Not to sound pessimistic, I would say the need for Boys and Girls clubs is greater than ever and we are committed to it,” Dominick said.
Nationally, 40 percent of Boys & Girls Club members use the organization on a daily basis. Locally, 80 percent of the members are in the units daily.
The current iteration of the local Boys & Girls Club began in 2017, when two chapters combined and created an organization with units in Pitt, Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Greene, Lenoir and Martin counties.
Dominick, who served as the club’s CEO in Pitt County in the early 1990s and interim CEO during the 2017 transition, said the organization serves 1,000 young people between the ages of 6 and 18, half of whom attend schools. Pitt County units.
Membership numbers are down from a peak of around 1,400 children and adolescents before the pandemic, Dominick said.
Part of the decrease is due to the organization shutting down from March to August 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. When the organization reopened, pandemic restrictions necessitated lower member-to-employee ratios, and the organization rushed to rehire and add staff. At first, units in small counties had wait lists due to staffing issues, Dominick said, but that issue has been resolved.
A move last year also made room for growth. A unit formerly based at Jarvis United Methodist Church moved to the Lucille Gorham Center in August. The site is expected to accommodate 120 children, officials said.
Club leaders wanted a space in West Greenville because many of its members who live there were bussed to Farmville. There is also a historical component.
“We’re just over 50 and one of our first locations was actually in the West Greenville community on Skinner Street,” Dominick said. “We are more than delighted to be back in what we perceive to be a community of great need, a community of great importance.
“We are eternally grateful to Jarvis and their congregation for the years they have hosted us and supported our operations financially and otherwise,” said Dominick.
The success of the Boys & Girls Club is measurable, he said.
The club is undertaking the National Youth Outcomes Initiative Survey, an anonymous survey of all active members aged 9 to 18, which allows them to share their experiences and perspectives of their club. The information is used to develop activities, programs and partnerships and for staff development.
The 2021 survey found that 93% of club members expect to graduate from high school; 75 percent of members intend to complete their post-secondary education; 92 percent of members try to help when they see people in need, and over 60 percent of members are physically active for at least 60 minutes five or more days a week.
Even before the pandemic, the organization recognized that some children needed to devote more time to academics.
Club Academy was launched in 2014. The club works with school systems to provide services and activities aimed at improving the overall academic performance of K-5 members. Learning plans are individualized for each member.
The programming focuses on reading math and science while fostering interest in STEM-related fields.
The academy operates out of seven units, three in Greenville, two in Martin County and one each in Greene and Lenoir counties. Since the start of the program, over 90 percent of academy members have been promoted to the next level.
Last semester, 216 club members attended the academy.
“We don’t just help kids catch up, we help them excel,” Dominick said.
Equally important are the immeasurable benefits children get from the program, he said.
“The only thing I can’t measure in black and white for you but can show you in clubs is just better people,” Dominick said. “If we focus on this whole academic and technical program but forget to build character for these people, what have we really done? “
Dominick has first hand experience. He joined the organization at the age of 12 and it was the Boys Club.
“I thought I was too cool to go to Boys Club, but it was a life changing experience,” he said. “It was the best place I had been to and that’s why I’m still involved.”
Dominick attended college on a Boys Club scholarship. After being president of the local club, he moved on to the national organization.
Beyond promoting physical health with recreational and academic activities, the organization provides other services, Dominick said.
There are programs that tackle addiction and intervention issues. Staff intentionally focus on social and emotional well-being and on recognizing mental health issues.
Adolescents are prepared to enter the workforce by preparing for a trade or for higher education.
The organization is also working on more immediate needs, such as making sure members receive healthy snacks and at least one hot meal a day.
Meals are generally served between 2:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., depending on the location of the club. The meal consists of a meat or meat substitute, vegetables, fruit, a whole grain product, such as noodles and milk. It’s often chocolate milk, but it’s ok as long as it’s low in fat, Dominick said. Snacks typically consist of 100 percent fruit juice and a whole grain product like whole grain pretzels or crackers.
“What I see in the clubs is that the kids eat pretty well,” he said.
The club receives $ 3.66 per meal and $ 1 per snack from a division of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The amount does not cover the full cost of the meals, Dominick said. The organization therefore collects funds to pay the remaining amount. The organization has allocated $ 85,000 to cover food costs in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, he said.
The club took this effort, he said, because hungry children don’t do well in school.
While the organization receives limited federal funding for activities – such as its nutrition program – and some of the money from membership fees, the bulk of its revenue comes from fundraising, which has been affected during the pandemic.
The organization’s annual budget is approximately $ 7 million. Revenue fell $ 1 million between 2019 and 2020, Dominick said.
“For about two years, we haven’t been able to host any in-person events,” Dominick said. “For us, these events held in these seven counties… are a great way to connect with our donors and let them know what we are doing with their donations.”
The organization’s leadership has looked for other ways to bond with donors personally, but the pandemic has also hampered one-on-one meetings, Dominick said.
In some cases, this involved asking more people and organizations for money, as some long-time donors have experienced slowdowns brought on by the pandemic, he said.
Eastern North Carolina is a bountiful geographic region when you stay at the forefront of the minds of its residents, Dominick said.
“Our clubs here are fortunate to have very strong community support,” he said.
When the organization connects in the community, donors respond.
“They understood that in this time of crisis, the Boys & Girls Club is a critical need,” he said. The organization allows parents to return to work because they know their children live in a healthy and safe environment.
In addition to financial support, the organization needs volunteers and advocates.
“We need them to come together around these young people when they’re at the Boys & Girls Club and when they’re not,” he said. “We are concerned for the well-being of all the children in our community. “