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'We're just in a tough situation right now'

Jerry Sinn calls it the price of success.

For more than 300 Sequim youths and another 60 in Port Angeles, the Boys & Girls Club is a home away from home after school and during summer months. Club leaders say they've seen a spike in club membership, a jump of about 9 percent since last year.

But that same growth has led to financial constraints that threaten to shut down programs and reduce club hours, said Sinn, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula board of directors, and Bob Schilling, the clubs' executive director.

"We're working on (what we would cut) right now. Anything we do is going to have an impact," Sinn said last week. "If we don't come up with some funds, we have to make some of those decisions. We're just in a tough situation right now. We need to work our way out of it."

Those clubs, the Carroll C. Kendall Unit in Sequim and the smaller Mount Angeles Unit in Port Angeles, cost about $1.1 million to operate each year.

Sinn said despite tightening or keeping level costs in food, club supplies, staffing and power to the tune of 2 percent, club officials expect to head into 2009 with a shortfall of about 11 percent of what the club started with in January 2008. That would keep the doors open in Sequim and Port Angeles for about 45 days into 2009. Sinn said he would like to see at least a three- or four-month reserve to continue to provide programs for youths of ages 6 through high school, Sinn said.

Club officials had plans for expansion, particularly at the 5,000-square-foot Port Angeles club, but that's on hold for now.

"We (the Boys & Girls Club board) made a decision that we would not spend any discretionary money," Sinn said.



Funds running dry

Len Lewicki, a financial advisor and former board president who resigned from the board in August 2007 to support his wife through health problems said, "For whatever reason, we are not getting the funds necessary to run the organization properly. Either we, the board and the organization, are not making the case sufficiently to the community or the community is voting with its dollars and saying, 'I don't think the organization is worth supporting.'"

Lewicki said the Boys & Girls Club manages its money closely and effectively but that the organization has been "scrambling for dollars" for at least four-and-a-half years.

"We were always living hand-to-mouth," Lewicki said during a telephone interview. "We did not have a real big reserve and pretty much spent everything we brought in every year. That was basically the case the entire time I was on the board."

He served on the board of the Kirkland Boys & Girls Club for six years prior to moving to Sequim and attended a club in Chicago as a child.

"The number of kids coming to the club has exploded and it puts the board and the staff in a very uncomfortable situation. Any financial problems they have are a result of having too big of a heart and not cutting kids off," Lewicki continued, emphasizing that growth is the reason for the club's financial distress. "The club has to decide whether to turn kids away or to continue accepting every kid that walks through the door and hope to raise the money to back that decision. That's the bottom line."

Bryon Gunnerson, a former club board member and longtime supporter/fundraiser for the Boy Scouts of America, said while big donors are still giving, smaller donations are simply harder to come by now, squeezing off the club's vital revenue flow.

That's the word he and Schilling got when the two attended a Boys & Girls Club national conference in San Francisco this May, Gunnerson said.

"Donations have washed up across the board," he said, thanks to the growth of the number of charitable nonprofits in the state and nationwide - 1.9 million as of 2006, according to the Internal Revenue Service. "Everyone has got (a) hand out," Gunnerson said.



Who supports the clubs

The clubs get support from personal donations, United Way, grants, and community groups including Rotary to offset costs, predominantly staff- and other overhead-based costs. With eight full-time staff members and more than a dozen part-timers, depending on the time of year, the Olympic Peninsula clubs have up to 30 employees during any given week.

"We're a labor-intensive business," Sinn said. Still, the board president said, 75 percent of all fundraised dollars and 80 percent of all other funds go directly to programs.

"I think we have good stewardship of (our) money," Sinn said.

A large percentage of the club's revenues come from fundraisers such as its annual golf tournament in May and the popular auction in November.

By far the club's biggest annual fundraiser, last year's auction netted about $163,000. Sinn said the board hopes to net a little more this year.

In a year of economic struggles, he said club officials are doing a large mail-out program to generate even more interest in the auction and they are particularly interested in getting Port Angeles-area citizens involved. The trick, he said, is increasing the number of people without losing the quality of the event. The auction's theme this year is "The Roaring 20s."

The key to raising more money from smaller donors, Gunnerson said, is convincing parents to invest beyond the $2 per month their children are charged to be club members. But few clubs have reported success in doing that, he noted, after attending the national conference.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula gets support from United Way of Clallam County, an organization that has a massive fall pledge drive to raise money for its many community partners. The United Way requires its partner agencies to cease fundraising Sept. 1-Nov. 15, as not to infringe on the larger fund drive. One exception is the Boys & Girls Club auction, set for Nov. 15.

Jody Moss, United Way executive director, expressed concern over the Boys & Girls Club's financial woes. "We are certainly sensitive to the financial situation the Boys & Girls Club is in," she said. "We are kicking off a campaign during a high pressure economic period (and are aware that) a lot of our partner agencies are dealing with the same issues the Boys & Girls Club are."

But, Moss continued, the rules are the rules. "Our supplemental fundraising policy says that agencies may not directly solicit funds during a blackout period," she explained. "The reason for the policy is so that we are not competing for donors at the same time agencies are competing for donors."

United Way allocated $54,019 to the Boys & Girls Clubs last year. Of that money, $18,982 was raised during the fall pledge drive. The rest was donated from community members and designated to help children and youths succeed. The money is dispersed throughout the year, Moss said.

Sinn dismissed the idea that the Boys & Girls Club would try to conduct another fundraiser during the United Way campaign period.

"We support the United Way - they do a great drive," Sinn said, insisting the club would not pursue any fundraisers other than the auction until the United Way drive is finished.

The local clubs get no monetary support from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America organization, save some small grants, although the national staff does have regional staff to assist clubs and offers staff training and programs for clubs.



Impacts

Last year, the club received $100,000 from the city of Sequim to pay for opening and running its Teen Club. This year, its uncertain if the city will be able to give money to the Boys & Girls Club.

The city is in the middle of budget planning and at this time, it is premature to give any answers as to where the money will be allocated, said interim city manager Bob Spinks. The city is facing a $725,000 budget deficit, as well.

"I don't want to turn those kids (away)," Sinn said. "It's kind of the end point of what we're doing. We've got to figure out how to keep that club open."

Few Boys & Girls Clubs in the nation have something like Sequim's teen-themed club, Gunnerson noted.

Closing the Teen Club would cost the community more in the long run, according to Sinn. "If you take one teenager and you prevent them from getting involved with drugs and alcohol and from getting in trouble with the law, how much does that save the community?" he asked. "I'd be willing to bet it's at least $100,000, maybe more. It's much cheaper to prevent kids from going down the wrong road than to fix it later."

Club membership is $24 per person, a figure Sinn and other Boys & Girls Club leaders insist is key to keeping doors open to youths who need it the most.

"Our whole mode, our whole mission is to provide a safe place for kids and (to be) open to every child," Sinn said.

Sinn and Schilling said there are three goals they are working on immediately to help ensure the longterm financial security of the club.

One is to approach large corporations, not necessarily local- or state-based companies, for annual or multiple-year donations. Sinn said Boys & Girls Club officials are in preliminary talks with three companies, but declined to name them.

The second goal is to build upon an already existing endowment fund through the Boys & Girls Club Foundation. The foundation was active during the capital campaign to build the Carroll C. Kendall unit in Sequim but has become dormant.

Sinn calls the endowment "absolutely critical" to retooling the club's financial package.

The final goal, and perhaps easiest to implement, is to increase the number of volunteers and develop an organized volunteer-force program, Sinn said.

"You must invest in the youth of a community to ensure the quality of a community in the future," Sinn said. "To me, it's an investment."



Boys & Girls Clubs by the numbers*

57 - percent of Boys & Girls Club alumni say the club "saved their life"

91 - percent of alumni say they are satisfied with their adult life

62 - percent say "I became more dedicated to my education"

45 - percent say "The club helped me graduate from high school"

28 - percent say "I would have dropped out of high school"

81 - percent say club helped them develop sense of responsibility to do community service

4 - average days alumni attended the club

5.2 years - average years of club participation

* - Harris Interactive phone and Internet survey from 2007 of 1,014 Boys & Girls Club alumni at least 18 years old



A positive place for kids'



The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula have been providing after-school youth programs for 21 years. Statistics show that children who attend Boys & Girls Clubs across the U.S. have better academic experiences, score at or above the national average on tests and demonstrate lower dropout rates, according to Bob Schilling, executive director.

On a national level, the Boys & Girls Club celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2006. The organization was founded in 1860 when three Connecticut women reached out to a group of undernourished and neglected boys with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. The women didn't know it then but they were planting the seeds of what would become an American success story and an institution with the mission of reaching out to children in need.

By 1906, more than 50 organizations joined forces to form the Federated Boys Clubs. The name changed 25 years later to the Boys Clubs of America and then again to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1990, to better serve youngsters in 3,700 clubs and U.S. military bases nationwide and abroad. Now, more than 4.8 millions boys and girls are served in 4,300 locations.

Well-known alumni include former secretary of state

Colin Powell, actor Denzel Washington and professional baseball player Alex Rodriquez.

More information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula is available online at www.positiveplaceforkids.net.

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