REALTORS® Building Great Communities: Building Brighter Futures

The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County is building brighter futures for young people and communities one child at a time


 Jim Wood  |    September 07, 2017
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Flashback

It’s 2010. Families across the nation are still reeling from the effects and after-effects of the Great Recession. Even in Dane County, things are hard for way too many people, and the pain trickles down, bruising the children and the organizations that try to meet their needs. 

These are particularly hard times for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. There’s no money. Staff has been laid off. Budgets and programs have been downsized or cut. There’s no strategic plan in place to guide what few staff members are left, and the board is worried about the organization’s sustainability.

And then the group hired Michael Johnson.

Fast forward

It’s 2017. The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County is one of the fastest-growing Boys and Girls Clubs in the nation. Ranking in the top 4 percent of all the clubs, it has grown from 18 employees in 2010 to more than 200 employees today. It has also tripled the number of young people it serves from 1,800 to more than 6,000 and now serves those future citizens at 12 locations around the county.

These are challenging but productive times for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. It has a strategic vision and a sound plan for turning that vision into a reality. And it is producing measurable, meaningful results, illustrated by: 500 young people working at jobs or participating in an internship program; a Boys and Girls Club of Dane County Credit Union that promotes financial literacy; successful public-private partnerships; and a business plan with benchmarks that are being met and surpassed.

And, the members of the REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin (RASCW) are helping move it forward. 

Michael Johnson is the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. His important vision energizes his words and actions, electrifying the time and space around him and inspiring staff, guests and listeners alike to do more to support families and help children get a good education, be safe and have hope. 

Kevin King is the executive vice president of RASCW and is a longtime Boys and Girls Club supporter and volunteer.

Michael and Kevin came together to talk about how the relationships between families, young people, schools and neighborhoods affect communities and why it’s so important to make sure those relationships are expanding opportunities and building real hope for the future. They both know making the club’s programs and facilities available to the 6,000 children and family members who come through their doors takes money, and both also explain that it takes lots and lots of volunteers.

During a visit to the club, Kevin gestured broadly around a large room on the lower level of the club’s building on Madison’s south side where 20 dedicated and enthused volunteers had just wrapped up a meeting, and he smiled broadly and said, “It’s amazing what’s going on here!”

The Boys and Girls Club staff and volunteers who shared their personal experiences bring a whole new meaning to the word “amazing.” These are serious people who have made a very conscious, informed decision to make a difference in the life of someone else. They have been and are there for a boy or girl who needs a companion, a helping hand, a patient listener or an encouraging smile. They have been there and will be there to help raise the money the club needs to ensure safe places, nutrition, education and instruction for the children of the communities it serves. “They” are Tom Weber of First Weber Inc. and current RASCW president; Kevin King, executive vice president of RASCW; Chris Stark of Stark Company REALTORS®; Kathy Bartels of Stark Company REALTORS®; Tommy Walls, director of programs for the Boys and Girls Club; Karen Gallagher, vice president of development of the Boys and Girls Club; and Sara Whitley of Old National Bank.

These individuals and the Boys and Girls Club volunteers like them live vibrant lives filled with purpose and passion. Words and phrases with meaning such as “trust,” “one person at a time,” “building relationships” and “creating opportunities” pepper their conversations, and there is a sort of steely determination that underscores a sense that these folks aren’t going away. Listening to them — in case you hadn’t noticed — is awe- and action-inspiring. 

RASCW helps support these critical human investments of time, energy and emotion with individual and organizational contributions to the Boys and Girls Club. In recent years, its organizational fundraising has been organized around the “Bike for Boys and Girls Club” annual bike ride. This year, 15 RASCW members raised more than $3,000 for the Boys and Girls Club.

Kevin is proud of his members and the work they are doing. “There’s a growing awareness,” he explained, “that people from all walks of life need to engage more meaningfully with the challenges and opportunities facing the children and families in their community who need help, and a growing realization that working with the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County will significantly improve the odds that when they do engage, their efforts will make a difference.”

Michael is impressed with and appreciative of what Kevin and his members have done to help address the club’s critical need for volunteers. But both Michael and Kevin don’t want their discussion to end without also acknowledging the importance of the financial contributions RASCW has and is making.

They both point to a recent message from RASCW president Tom Weber when he commented on the organization’s installation dinner that was “topped off by an inspirational keynote address from Michael Johnson ... [whose] personal story and life challenges, combined with his incredible passion, has allowed him to make impressive progress with our local youth.” 

Tom continued, “That is when all the attendees made my year! In a combined effort leveraging the many resources of our members and affiliates, we raised $7,500 for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and another $1,330 for the Tri-County Boys and Girls Club in Berlin, Wisconsin … what an amazing show of commitment to our communities and local youth. It made me very proud to be a part of this great organization.”

As the discussion wound down, Kevin and Michael talked about the importance of expanding vistas for and sharing values with young people. “Tell him about Flint, Michigan,” Kevin suggested to Michael. Michael offered the following example of how energy and vision can touch the boys and girls and communities in very real and meaningful ways.

When hearing about the families in Flint not being able to drink from the municipal water supply, Michael, his staff and the boys and girls at the club decided to help. Within in a few days, they had collected 50,000 gallon jugs of fresh, clean water; tracked down a truck to haul the water, and coordinated transportation for a small army of staff and Boys and Girls Club volunteers to deliver the water. When they arrived in Flint, they were thanked by local relief organizers and told to off-load the water at a local storage facility. 

But, this effort wasn’t going to happen that way in Michael’s world. “The boys and girls had worked hard to help kids and families like theirs. They deserved to close the loop and hand that water they had collected to another human being,” Johnson remembered.

“They needed to see the good that their work could produce.” And so, the volunteers from the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County spent the next 22 hours walking from one house to the next in Flint, delivering the water they had brought, one gallon, one thank you, one good luck and more than a few hugs at a time.

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Pictured from left to right: Kevin King, executive vice president, REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin (RASCW); Tommy Walls, director of programs, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County; Sara Whitley, mortgage loan originator, Old National Bank; Karen Gallagher, vice president of development, Boys and Girls Club of Dane County; Chris Stark, REALTOR®, Stark Company REALTORS®; Kathy Bartels, REALTOR®, Stark Company REALTORS®; and Tom Weber, REALTOR®, First Weber Inc. and 2016-17 RASCW president.

If you want to join the team making a difference for children in Dane county, contact the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, 1818 W. Beltline Highway, Madison, WI, 53713; 608-257-2606. Visit www.bgcdc.org to learn more.

James B. Wood is Chairman of Wood Communications Group based in Madison. He also serves as Strategic Counsel to Competitive Wisconsin Inc., The BE BOLD Council, the Wisconsin Education Business Roundtable and the Wisconsin REALTORS® Foundation and is a longtime consultant and strategic planning facilitator for the WRA. 

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