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Boys & Girls Clubs: A D.C. Bailout?

When the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington proposed this spring to sell off four clubs in the District, permanently close its historic Capitol Hill branch and most likely do the same in Georgetown, the public outcry was loud and clear: It's fine for the clubs to expand to meet the growing need in the suburbs, residents and parents said, but the organization must keep its commitment to kids in the city.

Now, just days after the Boys & Girls Clubs shuttered the Eastern Branch club on Capitol Hill, the organization is deep into negotiations aimed at winning a $3 million grant from the District government--a several-fold increase in Washington's support for the clubs.

Why would the D.C. government go along with what appears to be a bail-out of an organization that only a few weeks ago announced its willingness to turn its back on thousands of kids who have relied on the clubs for recreation and counseling for decades?

Will Gunn, the clubs' chief executive, says Boys & Girls is not diminishing its commitment to the District, but needs to find a way to maintain its 11 clubs in the city--far more than the three it has in Maryland and the eight it runs in Virginia. The organization's financial problems stem in part from its takeover of the old Metropolitan Police clubs a few years ago--a burden the private group says it took on with little financial help from the city.

But faced with a financial crunch, increased demand for services in the suburbs, and a new approach suggested by bottom-line-oriented outside consultants, the clubs decided to sell off some of their prime real estate holdings in the District. "We serve kids of all backgrounds," Gunn told me, "but if we have to make a value decision, we want to serve lower income kids first." Translation: We want to sell our Georgetown property and use the millions from that to expand elsewhere. (Whenever you hear executives talk about "value decisions," start nailing down the furniture.)

"We would love to be able to develop in such a way that we can still provide services" in Georgetown, Gunn says, holding out hope that he can sell off the land at the Jelleff Club on Wisconsin Avenue NW and get a developer to give part of the site back for recreational use.

If the city gives the clubs the money, Gunn says, the Eastern Branch club will reopen. If not, it's dead. But that's not a threat, he argues.

The District has a threat of its own--some members of the D.C. Council are bandying about the "eminent domain" idea--the notion that the city could strip Boys & Girls of control of the Jelleff and Eastern Branch sites and claim the property in the name of providing recreation for young people.

Gunn says the clubs want to do as much in the District as they can. He says critics who believe the clubs want to close Jelleff and Eastern Branch because they sit in relatively affluent areas don't understand that "a family with a $500,000 income can be of great use to this organization, and there's intrinsic value to bringing together people of different backgrounds."

But Gunn adds that "that doesn't have to happen in upper Northwest. I'm interested in taking kids from all over the city and giving them outlets where they can interact with each other. We've got to show kids other realities."

It makes sense, of course, to focus on kids in impoverished parts of Washington whose entire universe may consist of just a few city blocks. But some city residents say the club has not lived up to its promises in those neighborhoods. Jim Myers, a Hill activist who lives near the Eastern Branch club, is one of many residents who believe the club has failed to reach out effectively to young people involved in gangs, drug sales and, as Myers puts it, "wilding sprees through the community--all in the immediate environs of Eastern Branch." But even as neighbors organized to make an offer to take over the facility and mount their own programs, the Boys and Girls Clubs shut down their building.

While some neighbors view the proposed deal with the District as a bailout or stick-up, some on the D.C. Council say it's reasonable for the clubs to seek assistance "because a lot of the clubs are in areas where we don't have a lot of recreational facilities for our youth, Capitol Hill and Georgetown specifically," says council member Harry "Tommy" Thomas (Ward 5.)

Thomas says his aim is to prevent the clubs from selling off properties on the Hill and in Georgetown. But Gunn is not promising to pull back from his plan to sell the Eastern Branch site and seek development at the Jelleff site. The draft memo of the $3 million deal between the city and the clubs would assure that those clubs remain open only for as long as the city is paying the extra dollars--a year or two, under the proposed contract.

Gunn says the city contribution is justified because the clubs spend a disproportionate part of their budget on D.C. programs.

But the District already pays a far higher proportion of the clubs' expenses than does, for example, Montgomery County. The D.C. government this year gave the clubs $500,000 for its 14th Street NW club, as well as $200,000 for the organization's summer camp, and another $144,000 in a general grant from the parks department. Montgomery, by comparison, has given the two clubs in its county $832,000 over the past ten years, according to county records.

Boys & Girls Clubs serve 13,000 kids in the District, 8,000 in Maryland and 5500 in Virginia.

Clubs officials say that regionwide, about 23 percent of their funding comes from government or through government-funded outside agencies. The rest comes from foundations, individuals, businesses, special events and membership fees.

There's no question that the clubs do some terrific work--that's why some of the organization's own leaders are so riled up about shutting down any clubs. And it's only fair that the clubs would want to reach out to kids in places that are underserved or not served at all: The Boys & Girls presence in Prince George's County, for example, is negligible yet much needed.

But the proposed deal doesn't provide enough safeguards for D.C. taxpayers. Where the clubs are providing services that the District ought to but doesn't, it makes sense to help the clubs financially. But unless the clubs are ready to guarantee the survival of busy and beloved facilities in the city--not just for the length of the city's payments but beyond that--the answer from the Fenty administration should be no deal.

By Marc Fisher |  August 30, 2007; 7:05 AM ET
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Comments

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I think the Boys & Girls Clubs should teach marksmanship so that when the kids grow to be real thugs and 'bangers they can shoot better at the person they're aiming for and not hit so many innocent bystanders. Teach the kids what they need to know to survive on the streets.

Posted by: Stick | August 30, 2007 8:01 AM

A group of Capitol Hill residents, Neighbors United (NU), is working to purchase the Eastern Branch Boys and Girls Club, 261 17th Street SE, and convert it into "a community-owned and community-operated facility." The primary club mission would remain skill and character development of boys and girls, but NU Chair Will Cobb and Vice Chair Ellen Opper-Weiner hope to improve club sustainability by keeping the facility open 15 hours a day, seven days a week to serve infants, toddlers, young adults, adults and seniors. Programs would include athletics, fitness, education and personal enrichment.

NU says it wants to unite the neighborhood "across divides that now exist with respect to income, race, and length of residence."

Posted by: Mike Licht | August 30, 2007 8:22 AM

Are they holding a Gunn to our heads, Marc? Do we need stronger Gunn control laws? Etc.

I can't see the case for this large middle/upper class subsidy to the kids that are using the facilities in Georgetown. Why not raise the membership fees -- especially in Georgetown? All our kids who are in the Stoddert Soccer league, for example, ought to be paying to use the facilities. Similarly the basketball league.

Posted by: KK | August 30, 2007 8:31 AM

"Continue operating in the red or we'll confiscate your property!" is not how a normal government treats a nonprofit trying to plug the gaps in public services that that government fails to provide.

After reading about the Crestar nonsense yesterday, I couldn't stop wondering why any sane company would ever consider doing business in the District. Reading the story above, I've now got to extend that same befuddlement to the local charities as well. Why do they expose themselves to such risk for so little reward? Stop trying to make DC a better place, the People don't want you here!!

Posted by: athea | August 30, 2007 9:14 AM

Wait a minute! I know that simple numbers don't necessarily tell the story but:

11 Clubs serving 13,000 kids in DC
3 Clubs serving 8,000 kids in MD
8 Clubs serving 5,500 kids in VA

Where does the total budget for the clubs come from? Where are the budget expenditures?

Posted by: mikes | August 30, 2007 9:39 AM

It is comments made by Stick (sick) and others that make it hard for others to see that things are changing in this area. The change is slow but change does not happen overnight. It is a process that we must all commit to and work at. Not run from or try to restrict to certain areas. No one and nothing is perfect. We all have things that we wish we could take back. Stick, are you throwing stones? I am a product of the Eastern Branch Boys' Club. I have witnessed even fallen prey to unsavory activities. Yet because of people who cared and the positive activities the Boys Club offered, I never lost my way or hope that I could be somebody. I beg you to not let another community die because of obstacles we can address and defeat with a unified effort. Where does the 'no child left behind' passion some took play out here?...or is just not MY child will be left behind. As with all other issues, this boils down to money. We seem to want to take better care of property than people. Lord, please help us all.

Posted by: Avegirl | August 30, 2007 9:51 AM

It is sad that the Metropolitan Boys and Girls Club has come to this. My father was a DC Police Officer from 1966-1982 and part of his duties were to work at the Boys & Girls Club #14 and #11. The involvement that these officers were so important in not only my life but to other kids throughout the city. When my father passed in 2004 so many men showed up at his service and spoke on how his work at the Boys and Girls Club impacted their lives and how they became successful citizens in the community and with their families. Let's stop the money game and work at perserving institutions that should be a positive influence to young people.

Posted by: jvd01 | August 30, 2007 10:16 AM

I am also a product of Eastern Branch Club. My sister recieved a 4 year scholorship to college from Eastern Branch, and she graduated top 25. I am a foster mother with three kids, I would love to see my kids stay at Eastern Branch Club. We create terrible communities by closing everything for the kids, then they hang on the corners finding trouble. We all say we want to help, walk the walk, and kill the talk. This can work, keep the Club open and send more kids to college on scholorships. Have a homework support group, teen summits, drug prevention and outreach programs to young girls with babies. Please just dont close Eastern Branch, my kids, the community & I need the center. For some kids in our neighborhood the Club is all they got.

Posted by: Keta | August 30, 2007 10:44 AM

Stick is right. And enough of this block away, eyes closed crap: if you want to be a stone-cold killer, do it right: go right up, look them in the eye, smell his bref, and plug him; not the little kids, or grandmas nearby.

Posted by: GangSTER | August 30, 2007 11:27 AM

With comments like this maybe you and Stick should be used for target practice.

Posted by: Avegirl | August 30, 2007 11:37 AM

Having been a Boys & Girls Club insider and having left because of changing leadership I have a few things to add - one the Eastern Branch has been falling apart and a safety hazard for years! Letting it go is a wise business decision and let's not forget to run a non-profit efficiently the best way is to run it like a business. HOWEVER, that area is in need of those services so a plan to rebuild on the existing site would be a wise decision for those kids - so many incredible, life-changing programs came out of that club. That club was a safe-haven in a community in desperate need. Jelleff has been running as a rec program and only a rec program for years - that club has not offered the programs that Boys & Girls Clubs of America www.bgca.org has created to meet the needs of struggling kids - now is that to say that the kids going to Jelleff don't need those programs? PERHAPS!!! AND the comment in the article about the benefit of association with those wealthy families is well a load of crap - those parents and families in most cases have not supported the efforts of the organization historically. That club has run on leagues, a freaking DOG SCHOOL rental and parking space fees from commuters NOT for kids in need of programs that the Boys & Girls Clubs offers - oh and if you're looking for donations from the VOLVOS, BMWS and MERCEDES that drop off their kids there - forget it - many development officers have tried. Selling Jelleff is also a wise business decision! But let's dig into the administration of this seemingly messed up organization - let's look at a struggling organization, serving under priveleged kids that pays its execs WELL INTO the SIX figures, consultants who DO NOTHING over $120k a year, YET pay the folks responsible for PROGRAMMING oh about $7-$9 an hour... come on babysitters make more than that and I think you know where I'm going with it... they are just that in a lot of cases and can you blame them? This is an organization built on PROGRAMS - forget about the money for a second - are there programs, I mean the programs that they boast about on their web sites and on videos and at events, really running in these facilities? Maybe a few good programs a year - enough for tid bits on the nightly news and highlights in grant proposals, marketing materials and sponsorship sales packets - but consistently? I challenge you MARC to find that - there may be a few say in Prince William County - the countryclubs of the organization (an actual REAL INSIDE JOKE among some of the leaders in this organization) but in the DC Clubs - Hmmmm not so much! And Will Gunn - who is this guy? What is his experience in running a youth organization? Check it out and you'll find EMPTINESS - I tell you - true EMPTINESS. The only guy who was TRULY a man of the mission was Tim Sheahan, the former VP up for President after Pat Shannon left but they ran him off - I bet the Boys & Girls Clubs of metro Denver are doing well - this is a guy who started at the front desk when he was just a boy. That's a guy who knows the organization and youth but the A-HOLES running the place now ran him out with foolishness - the petty things, the lies, the pointing fingers on the inside all ran him straight out and good for him. There are many Boys & Girls Clubs employees and even a SMALL handfull at the headquarters who are great people giving their lives to the mission and God love them for hanging around - and many of them do it for pennies while their counterparts get paid handsomely - company cars, boat retreats, trips to the Hamptons, for sitting on their butts. There are also some EXTREMELY dedicated board members who stick it out as well but on the side they even comment on the shenanigans of the execs and what the heck has this venture cap group done to this organization - it's getting worse every year they're on board and it's been what three or four now? There are lots of places to dig into the dark side of a once amazing youth organization. Let's see I would think letters to Boys & Girls Clubs of America may be the only way to clean it up without closing its doors. Try Roxanne Spillett herself - if memory serves me right it's rspillett@bgca.org.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2007 11:41 AM

The bottom line is that poor folk should not reproduce unless they are financially able to take care of their kids. That would reduce the need for these clubs. Folks, control your urges.

Posted by: Karl | August 30, 2007 12:57 PM

and immature folk like you should control your urges to speak when adults are speaking.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2007 2:02 PM

Just a qucik comment on Jelleff: I'm not sure of the current state of the club's demographics, nor do I have any insider knowledge of how programs are funded (i.e whether or not Stoddert and NW Little League pay for field use)but in my experience the club gets a bad rap as being elitist and only serving an upper-income population based on the club's location. I grew up in Mt Pleasant and played most of my rec sports at Jelleff. I remember the leagues being pretty diverse actually (not so much baseball, but that's a different issue.) The club provides recreation opportunities not just for kids who live in the area, but also those who go to school at Wilson, Deal, Hardy, Hearst, etc. Anyone who knows DCPS knows that those schools are pulling kids from all across the city. While some type of redevelopment may be in order, I would be loathe to lose such a functional, and historic, club, due to a perhaps uninformed notion of who the club serves.

Posted by: Moses | August 30, 2007 2:34 PM

Moses has it right. The "Georgetown" name for the Jelleff Boys Club is misleading. Jelleff is a melting pot of kids and parents from many parts of the city. It is not a little rich kids playground; I have yet to meet anyone there who actually lives in Georgetown. The fact alone that it has a scarce resource - an indoor gym for teams and for general use - draws kids from all over. Jelleff provides great programs and enriching experiences to lots of kids from many different backgrounds and neighborhoods and it should be preserved.

Posted by: FH | August 30, 2007 6:15 PM

So, a nonprofit, as a condition of receiving funding to provide services to a city, should promise the city that it will continue to provide those services even after the city stops paying for them. Stunning logic, that.

Posted by: NotAMom | August 30, 2007 6:39 PM

I have a novel idea: why not let the Boys and Girls Clubs actually charge the participants a yearly membership fee which is based on the actual cost of the programs and upkeep of the facilities. One fee for all--no special memberships and no special deals. If a particular Club cannot survive because of limited membership, low interest from the community, and financial costs, then trust the Clubs' management to decide what is best for all the participants. But then that makes too much sense.
In the not too distant future if our council members keep throwing away our monies, I see another Control Board taking over the financial reigns of the city.

Posted by: DC First | August 30, 2007 11:35 PM

For many years I was a director of the Metropolitan Police boys andgirls clubs and we faced a number of financial problems such as leaky roofs, warped basketball floors, camp expenses and diminished funding from the city. There was a culture that never wanted to combine with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America that ran Jellef and other clubs in and out of the city.
Thru fund raisers with the Redskins, particpation from local radio and tv stations, local banks and philanthropist such as the England and Hechinger families and actibe participation from Councilmember Carol Schwartz we managed to survive. I left before the merger and was told by other board members that there would be fewer financial problems from this action and trading land for new facilities such as the club on 14th st.
What happened? Did they overpay staff and neglect volunteers? Did the clubs push out the police in favor of their own staff/ Are there still funds from the Police clubs that can't be touched by the new organization. These questions need to be answered or maybe the clubs shoud separate and let the police clubs work solely in DC. The mayor should step in as he has done with the school system and get the clubs on their feet financially. The city needs this program from northwest to southeast.

Posted by: steve jacobson | August 31, 2007 8:16 AM

I grew up a few blocks from the then "Boy's Club" on 17th Street. My brothers, as well as most of the young males in our neighborhood were members. I even recall when we who lived in the neighborhood could not join because we were black. When the club began admitting blacks - not only did the boys join but so did the community. I recall a terrific mother's club that raised money through various fund raisers. I and a few of my friends even put on a talent show (we were in thr 9th or 10th grade) to raise money. The money made (which may not have even paid the electricity used for the event)was meager but the pride and sense of accomplishment was immeasurable. We wanted to be involved because our parents were involved, our brothers were involved, the community was involved. What seems to happening, with not only this Boys and Girls Club but in our day to day life, in many areas we don't get involved. People take on jobs just for money-no commitment. Parents are too burden with providing material things falling short on emotional support and character building of our children. Our children are under a false sense of entitlement (this is not a class issue it is the thinking pattern of many of today's children). They demand the best without wanting to lift a hand to contribute. Is everything in this world today measured only with what money can do? How about some human investment?
I think that would yield even more vested interest. Bad decisions by adults over bad conditions make for a very, very outcome for your young people.

Posted by: V. C. | August 31, 2007 10:27 AM

What do the kids do now? # 11 has been a wonderful relief for me being a single mother working two jobs and tring to keep my daughter out the the streets and having babies. The program has tought my daughter alot about her self gave her hope that there is more than life than what she sees in the streets. Every day she comes home in joy of the things that she does at the center. This year she did not get a summer job but the center allowed her to do commuity hours to perpare her for her 12th grade year. They went on many field trips. The people who work at the teen center at #11 club really cares for the teens. they get involved with them and understands the pressure of being a teen in the washington area. these kids need places like this to go when there is no hope. I know we can't save them all but why take away from the ones we can save. You need to come out and talk to the kids ask them how they feel, As adult we always think we know whats best , This time we need to listen to the children or we will lose what hope for there future.

Posted by: mother from club house #11 | September 5, 2007 3:45 PM

i think thay shoud give us the money because the club is a realy good place for kids it teaches us good skills it's a place to go after school in sted of going to the streets after school or going home
i come too the club. i have been going to the club for four years. and they have help me with a lot of things like finding a jobs, and helping with home work etc, and thats why we need the money to help us go to places and to but the thing that we need to help us.

Posted by: Raphael teen club house 11 | September 5, 2007 4:31 PM

I think that it is wrong that we are not allowed to have the money that is needed for Eastern Branch. we should be allowed to have what is right to reopen a branch that helped alot of children learn and focus on moving ahead. And to Stick you made a very malicious and spiteful comment. Not all children that live in the Ghetto are Ghetto. You must not have a Boys and s Club of your own and if you did you would not be so ful towards these clubs.

Posted by: Britany Austin 11th grader | September 5, 2007 4:33 PM

to stick
you need to be shot for making that remark. you don't even know us to make a remark like that. the only thing you know is what you see on the news and moveis. until you come to where he are and see how we realy are you can't say any thing. all of the kids are not the same. and if you still think the same thing after you visit thin you can say something.

Posted by: 007 | September 5, 2007 4:44 PM

i felt bad when i heard that we were degging for $3 million from the goverment to keep the boys & girls clubs up. its sad that we have to plede for money when its already be their.i hope this follows though and we get it because we should have some place to go after school. if not we are force to watch our backs cause of the hood vs. hood thing. if we have something to do after school we would not be on the streets.

Posted by: anthony clubhouse #11 | September 5, 2007 4:48 PM

Dear, Mr. Stick you have a very negative mind and very low standards for childern in Washington,DC. You have no idea of what peolpe here what to accomplish when they get older other then something having to do with in the world or life of Washingfton,DC. If you took your time and sit down with a few teenagers you might be able to get a better reply in a positive manner. You really need a reality check and help physically, mentally, and emotionally, help and intil you receive that you need not to make another remark about Washington,DC students, people, childern, and others that have nothing to do with that issue. Thank you for you unuseful time NO LOVE AT ALL ALWAYS LATONYA COOPER

Posted by: LaTonya Cooper(Teenager) | September 5, 2007 4:49 PM

DEAR, MR. STICK YOU ARE A SELF CENTER . AND AFTER THIS WRITTEN REMARK I HOPE YOU DIE.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2007 4:58 PM

They should give the club the money because the club keep people off the street and they have something else to do after school instand of being on the coner.

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