THE CN+R CH@T: Daniel Simmons

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina bustling with activity, working to make positive impact for Chatham kids

Posted 1/10/19

This week, we speak with Daniel Simmons, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina, which serve Chatham and Lee counties. Simmons joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sanford/Lee …

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THE CN+R CH@T: Daniel Simmons

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina bustling with activity, working to make positive impact for Chatham kids

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Posted

This week, we speak with Daniel Simmons, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina, which serve Chatham and Lee counties. Simmons joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sanford/Lee County as the executive director in July 2015. Upon the merger of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sanford/Lee County and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Eastern Piedmont, Daniel became the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina in October 2016. The organization currently serves more than 1,000 children per year in Lee and Chatham Counties. As of April 2018, plans are under way to open a Boys & Girls Club program in Harnett County. Simmons has a master of science degree in Human Resources Management from Indiana Wesleyan University and a bachelor of arts degree in Music & Business Administration from Winthrop University

You just marked a milestone of two years since bringing the Wren Family Center Boys & Girls Club into the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina family…so start off by talking about how you’ve settled in and give us “the state of the club,” so to speak… 

Yes, October 2018 marked two years since we merged the Boys & Girls Clubs of Eastern Piedmont and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sanford/Lee County together, creating the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Carolina. The Board of Directors and I are on a mission to ensure that Chatham and Lee County’s kids are cared for and prepared for tomorrow in the best way possible. When it comes to youth issues in our communities, I want our organization to always earn a seat at the table and be a part of the team. We haven’t had the chance to meet everyone yet, but we want the community to know that we’re serious about collaboration and being a part of the ecosystem that our kids need to be successful.

The state of the Clubs? Our two clubs are full. They are BUSTLING with kids. Our organization had over 900 registered Boys & Girls Clubs members in 2018 and I project that number to be the same or higher for 2019. We have a waiting list of kids who want to be members of a Club. I’m having conversations with our Corporate Board, our advisory boards in both counties, and with school administrators about how we can serve more kids, preferably sooner than later. Of course, we just finished Phase I of our expansion of the Wren Family Center. We now have the basics of the building done and we have begun the process of raising money to furnish things like a full kitchen and dining room, a technology lab, program areas for our teenagers, and more. Our kids need us now more than ever. It’s time for us to increase our answer to that call.

You have a fundraising campaign beginning in the spring of 2019. The clubs have always done fundraising in the past – what makes this particular campaign different, and why is it so important?

The board of directors and I decided three years ago to take a step back from a funding plan that is heavily event-focused. I’ve really encouraged the them to rethink the overall funding strategy and consider going “all in” on a giving campaign, as well as a structured planned giving program, and they have run with it! Each year, we hold the “Great Futures Annual Campaign: The Campaign for Chatham and Lee County’s Kids.” In short, this is a board-driven effort to secure unrestricted operating funds from individuals, including board members and staff members.

Unrestricted gifts from the local community are the life-blood of the organization. We cannot continue to transform lives without a staff of youth professionals, the buses we use each day to transport from school to the Clubs, utilities, and all the other operational costs that you can imagine. Local, unrestricted gifts from individuals are how we cover these costs. We receive government and non-government grants, but these funding sources don’t provide our entire budget, and, in many cases, they are restricted from use for operating costs. Most grant funders expect operational costs to be supported by the local community.

The “gold standard” is for financial gifts from individuals to make up 60-70 percent of the organization’s budget. Historically, ours has hovered around the 15-20 percent mark, with grants making up most of the rest. Our board members have worked incredibly hard over the past two years to bring our support from local sources up to around 50 percent of our operating budget. That is an impressive improvement. As we embark on this campaign, and as our friends in the community consider their contributions to our work, I feel like our mandate is clear: Build upon the success to reach out and serve more kids more often.

Almost half of the youths involved in the clubs here come from single-parent households. What does that tell you, and what challenges and opportunities does it present for you?

I don’t have children of my own, but I do have first-hand experience as a child in a single parent home. I remember my mom having to get assistance with food from The Salvation Army when I was 5 years old. As far as I can remember, my mom always worked two jobs. She sewed toes on hosiery all day and then worked a second job until 9 p.m. doing hosiery for a smaller mill in town. In the mid-90s, she attended Randolph Community College and completed the GED. This was in the 1980s and 1990s. What’s troubling is that it has gotten even more difficult since then to make ends meet. Costs for everything from healthcare to food to childcare continue to increase at a steady rate. According to the NC Budget and Tax Center, it costs a single parent with two kids $25.59 per hour to make ends meet in Chatham County, and the hourly median wage falls short of what’s needed by 56 percent.  How many single parents do you know in Chatham County who make $25.59 per hour.

Our Wren Family Center in Siler City is open after school until 6 p.m. and all day during the summer. This allows parents to work a full day while knowing their children are in a safe environment until they pick them up. In fact, a recent survey showed 36 percent of parents of Club kids strongly agreed that Clubs allowed them to keep their job. A parent can work a full day and still have time to do routine chores, such as grocery shopping, before collecting their children from the Club. It’s difficult as a single parent to find time do these things when you’re the sole provider and caretaker in the home. Secondly, Club parents know that their kids have time set aside in the Club schedule for homework help. I believe there’s a lot of peace of mind in that for the parents.

Those familiar with the Clubs’ operation know the cost of membership – basically a dollar a week ($52) for the entire school year. Can you address cost? No children are turned away for not being able to pay, yet no doubt many could afford more than $1 per week…

Yes, we charge $1 per week during the academic year. This subject has been discussed across the Boys & Girls Clubs movement for years. I’ve seen Clubs charge $5 per week. I’ve seen Clubs that only charge $1 for the entire year. I’ve also seen Clubs that decided to increase their fee, say from $1 per week to $5 per week, only for Club membership and participation to drastically plummet. $5 per week probably isn’t a lot to me or to you, but to many families, it forces a decision between Club membership for their kids and putting gas in the car to get to work. I know, because I lived it as a child. The fees charged are at the discretion of the local board in each community, which I believe is good. Who better to assess the financial ability of local families than local board members who know the community? As far as our national office goes, they technically have no say in the matter because all Clubs are locally owned and operated, but they ask that we charge a fee that doesn’t prohibit membership of the kids who truly need us.  

We have an opportunity to help kids who are victims of situational and generational poverty, so they don’t repeat the cycle. Still, we make it a point to be open to ALL children who need us. We don’t judge kids by the cars their parents drive. Kids from the middle class have needs, too.

Can you speak to the academic performance of your club members, and how that’s emphasized as a part of what the club instills?

Put simply: The expectation for academic success is built into the culture at the Boys & Girls Clubs. Good grades, on-time grade progression, graduation from high school, and having a solid post-high school education and career plan is the bedrock of everything we do every single day.

Every day, one of the first things the kids do when they arrive at the Club is “Power Hour.” This is a national program, with support from Ross Stores and from the NC Department of Health & Human Services, which facilitates homework help and tutoring each day after school. During this time, our staff do their absolute best to get to every child who needs assistance with schoolwork. People often ask us what our most significant volunteer needs are, and this is probably it. We desperately need volunteers who can assist our staff in helping students with their homework or allow a child to read to them. The reading element is so important. If a child isn’t on their reading level by grade 2 or 3, it is incredibly difficult to catch up. In fact, most students who aren’t on grade level reading in 3rdgrade still won’t be on grade level in high school. This presents so many problems and is one of the key reasons for underemployment, incarceration, and poverty today. 

If you are interested in volunteering to help our kids, please call Joy Roberts, Director- Wren Family Center, at 919-663-6159 or email us at communitysupport@centralcarolinaclubs.org. Thank you!

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