Boys & Girls Club of the North Country
Beginnings and Early History through Mid-year 2007
By Bob Craven, First Chair of the Board of Directors
During late-2004 – early-2005, a small group of North Country residents became concerned that there was no safe place for children to go to after school to engage in healthy and fun activities. This group was spearheaded by Therese Reger, owner of the Four Seasons Sports Center (now Evergreen Sports Center), her then-husband Denny Engstrom, Bob Butson, former principal of the Lisbon Regional School, and Bruce and Cindy McLaren, This nucleus group then enlisted additional concerned community members to address this issue, some of whom were: Sally (Field) Russell, Bob and Anita Craven, and Joe Flynn, all of whom had experience in working with young people.
After investigating several possible youth organizational structures, we decided to form the Boys & Girls Club of the North Country (BGCNC) as a chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). (I was particularly enthused about this, since I was the casualty of a broken marriage, and during my adolescent years, I had been a member of the Boys Club of Santa Monica, CA, where the Club’s programs provided a needed refuge and helped me overcome my loneliness at the time.)
The BGCA has over 3.6 million members, 40,000 paid staffers and 157,000 working volunteers. This is a stellar organization that the highly regarded Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org) gives its highest 4-star rating, based on low administration cost (7% of revenue), fund raising cost (3% of revenue) and program effectiveness.
Boys and Girls Club of America Mission Statement
To inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.
The BGCA requires a start-up Club chapter first to become a satellite unit of an established Boys & Girls Club, and to operate successfully for several years as such before breaking off as a stand-alone Club. Working with Jeff Starcher, Regional Coordinator of the BGCA, we met with Gary Frost, Executive Director and Ken Neil Program Director, both of the Boys and Girls Club of Manchester (BGCM). The BGCM agreed to sponsor the BGCNC as a satellite unit, and to provide accounting and support services. This gave us the benefit of their experience in running a successful club, and also allowed us to take advantage of their IRS 501(c)(3) status as a charitable organization. Gary and Ken were very generous with their time, and their experience and advice proved invaluable in helping us with the myriad of details involved in setting up a successful functioning organization.
We then recruited other interested area residents willing to help: Dick and Barbara Langworthy, Kevin O’Brien, Candra Canning, Brenda Adam, Brenda Highland, Erline and Wendell Jesseman, Kelly Jesseman, Mike Kenney and Duane Cote. This group functioned as an informal Board, and made decisions regarding the new Club: We restricted membership to children in grades 3 through 5. The thought was that in later years, membership could be opened up to older grades, and that the original members, now older, could mentor the younger children. We set the annual membership fee at $25, and decided that scholarships would be available so that no child would be denied membership because of an inability to pay.
The Club initially was located in the Four Seasons Sports Center, Lisbon, first, at no cost, and later at break-even cost, thanks to the generosity of Therese Reger, owner of the Four Seasons. We obtained a $25,000 U.S. Dept. of Justice start-up grant through the BGCM, and hired our first employee Bruce McLaren to be our first full-time Unit Director. Bruce underwent four days of training at the BGCM. Bruce was good friends with World Champion skier Bode Miller, and prevailed on Bode to make a very generous gift to help get the Club going. (Later, through Bode, Spyder Ski Clothing generously donated a large number of ski parkas to the children who attended the first Boys and Girls Clubs of New Hampshire Free Ski Day hosted by Bretton Woods.)
The Club opened at the Four Seasons in mid-February, 2005, with a daily after school 3-6 p.m. program for kids in grades 3-5. We arranged for busing with Berry Transportation Co, but unfortunately at the end of the school year we did not have the funds to continue the buses from Franconia and Bethlehem. The program was popular: it grew quickly and soon reached a membership of 100 children, and a regular daily attendance of 25-40. The program included games, activities, swimming, snacks and quiet time with homework assistance. The attributes stressed at the Club were: courtesy, respect for others and good citizenship.
We established the BGCNC formal organizational structure consisting of elected officers, directors and standing committees in April, 2005, and established our own Mission Statement:
Boys & Girls Club of the North Country Mission Statement
A fun, safe and positive place for all children of the North Country, under the guidance of caring adults
When our original Unit Director Bruce McLaren left to take a job in financial services, which was more in line with his long-term career objectives, we hired Mike Ferrant as his replacement. Mike started work with the Club February 1, 2006. Mike has a BA in Psychology and was working on his MA in Counseling. Mike is a member of the Army Reserves, and had served in Iraq during 2003-2004. He was a member of the Greater Derry Boys & Girls Club for ten years while growing up, and was very familiar with Club programs. Mike, in addition to organizing and supervising the after school program, established and ran a spring break program, and a summer camp program having 6 one-week sessions. Mike also developed a good working relationship with Copper Cannon Outdoor Center Executive Director Peter Christnacht, and established collaborative programs with the Copper Cannon Outdoor Center.
On May 27, 2006, we moved into the new Clubhouse, located just behind the Four Seasons Sports Center in the just-constructed Ammonoosuc Recreation Center. The kids were very excited about this move and termed their new Clubhouse “a wicked awesome place!” The clubhouse is a dedicated facility containing computers, air hockey, fooze ball and pool tables, a dance studio, a basketball court, a large activities room and other resources to support healthy recreational, educational, cultural enrichment and good citizenship activities for kids.
In addition to Bruce and Mike, three of our original senior staff members made valuable contributions to the success of our Club programs: Terrie Drew, Rachel Bruce and Melyssa Berry.
Terrie served as Interim Director for the month between when Bruce left and Mike started. During this period, she conducted several focus group studies which provided some valuable member and parent feedback.
Rachel organized BGCNC floats in the Littleton Frost Light Parade and the Lisbon Lilac Festival. Both efforts garnered trophies. Rachel also led the Club’s participation in the award-winning BGCA Ultimate Journey program.
Melyssa served as Interim Unit Director while Mike was away on Army reserve duty. She organized the Club dance and music programs and also the Club member singing and dance presentations at several of our Heart of the Community breakfasts.
A number of dedicated volunteers helped with Club activities and programs. Among these have been the Littleton High School students, who have fulfilled their community service requirements helping at the Club.
The BGCNC continues to be a valuable community resource. It provides a safe place for kids to go after school, and their working parents can do their work secure in the knowledge that there kids are being well cared for in a safe and healthy environment. In addition, the Club has hosted Toys for Tots Days and special Military Family Days.
For personal reasons, I resigned as Chair of the Board of Directors at the August 1, 2006 meeting of the Board. At this meeting, Barbara Langworthy was elected as the Club’s second Board Chair. During her association with the Club, Barbara made monumental contributions to the Club’s success. She applied for and successfully obtained many financial grants, and worked on establishing a set of Club Bylaws. She served as webmaster of the Club website, and organized the first few annual Boys and Girls Clubs of NH Free Ski Days hosted by Bretton Woods.
Some Closing Remarks and Reflections
Funding was a problem at the beginning and continues to be a major challenge. Annual expenses are about $150,000, while membership fee annual income is about $5,000 – clearly a huge mismatch. We began by identifying potential donors and invited them to “parlor parties” hosted by board members. We regularly apply for grants. Unfortunately, most grants are given for very specific purposes – very few, if any, are given to support recurring operating expenses.
The Club enjoys a wide base of public support with many small donors. We are fortunate to have a few very generous public-spirited businesses and individuals who regularly make generous donations. We hold simple wine and cheese parties at the Clubhouse to showcase the Club facilities to interested people and potential donors, and host a major fund raising event in the fall every year: the Heart of the Community Breakfast. We publish a Club newsletter several times a year with a community-wide mailing to help publicize Club activities. However, in spite of all our best efforts, funding the Club operations continue to be a precarious hand-to-mouth endeavor.
Recognition to Major Volunteers
The Club has been fortunate to have had many volunteers who have contributed their time and skill to help the Club be successful and to grow. There is not enough space to recognize each of them individually. However, several of the Club board members and other individuals who have made truly outstanding contributions getting the Club up and running before and during the period in which I was Board Chair include:
Therese Reger, who provided the use of her Four Seasons facility for use as the first Club house, (sometimes to the unhappiness of her paying customers), and her help with the initial publicity.
Dick Langworthy, who assumed responsibility for setting up and maintaining the facility, utilities, and everything in it, including computer and utilities, and initially oversaw the Club finances and prepared the Club’s first expense budgets
Barbara Langworthy (see above).
Anita Craven, who served as Board Secretary, generating the meeting minutes and all the membership forms and information packets that were regularly distributed to the parents and area elementary schools, and who composed and sent out all the newsletters and Club publicity, including new releases to the area newspapers, and who for a while maintained the Club donor database and donor acknowledgments, and who took over management of the Bretton Woods Free Ski Day after Barbara.
Bob Butson, who made the initial investigation of youth organizations and recommendation to affiliate with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and who worked with Sally Field Russell as the Human Relations Dept.
Sally Field Russell, for her work with Bob Butson as the Human Relations Dept. preparing job descriptions, and working with employees, and recommending employee pay and pay raises to the Board.
Kevin O’Brien, for his financial leadership, taking over the Club finances, preparing monthly financial reports and the annual financial report.
Candra Canning, for her work in arranging and organizing several very successful events at the Mt. Washington Hotel, and launching the very successful Heart of the Community Breakfasts.
Erline and Wendell Jesseman, for their continued general financial support and hosting of Board meetings and Wine and Cheese parties.
Eleanor Drury, a professional fundraiser, who was not associated directly with the Club, but who gave generously of her time to coach Board members in effective fundraising techniques, at no cost.