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
Previous: The Seven-Year Think: And You Thought You Were Indecisive | Next: Random Friday Question: What's D.C.'s Slogan?
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Stick | August 30, 2007 8:01 AM
Posted by: Mike Licht | August 30, 2007 8:22 AM
Posted by: KK | August 30, 2007 8:31 AM
Posted by: athea | August 30, 2007 9:14 AM
Posted by: mikes | August 30, 2007 9:39 AM
Posted by: Avegirl | August 30, 2007 9:51 AM
Posted by: jvd01 | August 30, 2007 10:16 AM
Posted by: Keta | August 30, 2007 10:44 AM
Posted by: GangSTER | August 30, 2007 11:27 AM
Posted by: Avegirl | August 30, 2007 11:37 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2007 11:41 AM
Posted by: Karl | August 30, 2007 12:57 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2007 2:02 PM
Posted by: Moses | August 30, 2007 2:34 PM
Posted by: FH | August 30, 2007 6:15 PM
Posted by: NotAMom | August 30, 2007 6:39 PM
Posted by: DC First | August 30, 2007 11:35 PM
Posted by: steve jacobson | August 31, 2007 8:16 AM
Posted by: V. C. | August 31, 2007 10:27 AM
Posted by: mother from club house #11 | September 5, 2007 3:45 PM
Posted by: Raphael teen club house 11 | September 5, 2007 4:31 PM
Posted by: Britany Austin 11th grader | September 5, 2007 4:33 PM
Posted by: 007 | September 5, 2007 4:44 PM
Posted by: anthony clubhouse #11 | September 5, 2007 4:48 PM
Posted by: LaTonya Cooper(Teenager) | September 5, 2007 4:49 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2007 4:58 PM
Posted by: Lebron James teen club #11 | September 5, 2007 5:04 PM
Posted by: Nika | November 10, 2007 10:04 AM
Posted by: Rosie Segal | January 6, 2008 8:39 PM
Posted by: Rosie Segal | January 6, 2008 8:39 PM
Posted by: Amanda Kelly | January 6, 2008 8:53 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.