Hard Times: The Boys & Girls Clubs' Sell-Off
For nearly two years, the old Eastern Branch Boys & Girls Club on Capitol Hill has sat empty, a sad symbol of the decision by the club's parent organization to turn its back on city kids who relied on the clubhouses for recreation and education for nearly a century.
Today, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington is announcing the closing of four more of its clubs, including the Hopkins club in Southeast Washington, the Jelleff club in Georgetown--which uniquely draws kids from all over the city, and clubs in Alexandria and Adelphi.
The Boys & Girls Clubs, fearing antagonistic public reaction to their cuts, embargoed this news until this hour. Post reporters will flesh out the story in the coming hours and days, but for now, suffice to say that this slashing of clubs was a long time coming--a result of a misguided effort to capitalize on the organization's extensive real estate holdings and to spread the clubs' wings in the suburbs while cutting services to some of the most needy kids in the District.
When the clubs started down this road two years ago, the real estate boom was still hot enough to get the club executives salivating about how to parlay its property holdings into development deals that could fund future programming. But the deals never happened, and now, like many non-profits, the Boys & Girls Clubs face severe financial difficulties.
"We are going to see the contraction of quite a few non-profits in these tough times," says Terri Lee Freeman, president of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, which manages 700 charitable funds for individuals and businesses. The foundation's vice president for community investment, Angela Jones Hackley, says after-school programs are particularly hard hit by the double whammy of government budget cuts and private giving that is, for good reasons, being steered more toward emergency needs--food, clothing, shelter.
But the Boys & Girls Clubs' problems predate the recession. The group's directors and administrators decided years ago that kids in gentrifying urban neighborhoods didn't need their services as much as they used to--a woefully wrong reading of the changing city. Any glance at who attends D.C. public schools makes clear that there are still many thousands of kids in the District who desperately need extra help, as well as supervised play in the hours after school lets out.
"What's really essential for us is to serve as many children as possible that need us," Will Gunn, then the president of the clubs, told me in 2007. "And a valuable asset we have is the real estate we have in certain areas."
Gunn is gone, as his successor. Kevin Dowdell resigned last week after imposing a 10 percent layoff on the organization, which remained $7 million in debt.
The clubs' efforts to get the D.C. government to bail them out did not go well. The city is cutting left and right, and is in no condition to take on new responsibilities (indeed, many of the Boys & Girls Clubs in the city are former police-run clubs that were handed over to Boys & Girls not that long ago.)
Boys & Girls argues that they are not forsaking the city, and indeed they are launching new programs at a couple of schools, especially east of the Anacostia River. But part of the organization's problem has been its desire to expand into suburbs that very much desire their services, but that should not be served at the expense of city neighborhoods where the needs and traditions run deep.
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