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BGCMA ‘Rising Together’ campaign gets $10 million boost from Whitehead Foundation

A photo of Shaquille O'Neal with Boys & Girls Club members at the new Club in Henry County (Photo credit: Vosamo Photography for Boys & Girls Clubs)

By Maria Saporta

Thousands of children in our region will benefit from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta’s $27.5 million capital campaign – which has received a $10 million grant from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation – part of the Robert W. Woodruff family of foundations.

The thrust of the “Rising Together: More Kids, More Often, With Greater Impact” campaign is to help expand the reach and depth of the services that the 25 Boys & Girls Clubs provide in 10 counties throughout metro Atlanta. The campaign includes capital improvements in 12 of those clubs as well as Camp Kiwanis.

BGCMA serves children with the greatest needs. Of the children and youth served by the Clubs, 80 percent come from low-income families living at 200 percent or below the federal poverty level, and 80 percent come from single-family homes.

BGCMA’s Veronica Squires, David Jernigan and Shernā Phillips in front of the sign at the Chamblee Club. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Nearly 90 percent of the BGCMA children are Black or Hispanic from communities impacted by systemic injustices and inequities, said Veronica Squires, the nonprofit’s chief development officer. “Further, 82 percent of our Club members qualify for a free or reduced lunch.”

Stephanie Blank, a philanthropist and civic leader, is co-chairing the campaign along with Sam Johnson, an executive with Ernst &Young, a “club kid” in metro Atlanta and a real-life example of the organization’s successful outcomes.

Today, the need is even greater, Blank said, because children are “really struggling” coming out of the pandemic.

“If you layer in many of the challenges that come from poverty/low-income, single-family households and lack of access to resources, the issue is further compounded,” Blank said. “BGCMA is an important tool in the toolbox for addressing these issues in a way that truly positively impacts the trajectory of our kids.”

The campaign reflects several new strategies for the nonprofit.

In May 2021, the administrative offices of BGCMA moved to Chamblee out of Midtown, where it had been leasing space from the Atlanta-based Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which is based in Atlanta.

BGCMA sold its Brookhaven Club, and it bought the former Sophia Academy to house the Chamblee Club in 2019 – doubling its capacity.

David Jernigan, BGCMA’s president and CEO since May 2020, said in a recent interview that moving the metro Atlanta headquarters was driven by wanting to be more closely connected to the Club’s operations.

BGCMA’s Shernā Phillips, David Jernigan and Veronica Squires at the nonprofit’s new home in Chamblee enjoying its popular swings. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

“We also ended up saving about half a million dollars a year that we have been reinvesting in our programming,” Jernigan said.

Squires chimed in: “By being co-located in a club, we are able to see the mission play out every day.”

The campaign includes $4.1 million to transform the Chamblee Club, including a Tech Lab to promote science and technology; creating an Art Lab with a stage for the performing arts; upgrading the gym and teaching kitchen; building out a 3,000-square-foot teen center and developing 19 flexible program spaces to better serve the club’s members.

By partnering with other organizations, BGCMA has been able to expand its reach.

The campaign includes $2.7 million in a public-private partnership that led to the opening of the Shaquille O’Neal Boys & Girls Club of Henry County in the summer of 2021.

The renowned basketball player known as “Shaq” also grew up as a “club kid” in Newark, N.J.

“Shaquille O’Neal lives in McDonough, and he considers the Boys & Girls Club a central part of his upbringing,” Jernigan said. “The Club is in a former Henry County Middle School turned community center. The local community invested in the Club, and Shaq pledged $1 million.”

Other partnerships include having BGCMA operate in the City of Atlanta’s three At Promise Centers. By not having to invest in bricks and mortar, the nonprofit can invest in providing services to young people.

Another partnership has been with local schools.

The campaign includes investments in three school-based sites, including a partnership with Purpose Built Schools in the Carver High School cluster that’s part of the Atlanta Public Schools and a separate partnership with DeKalb’s McNair Middle School. “It helps in our ability to scale (our organization),” Jernigan said.

It also is locating a Club in the Flint River Community Center in Clayton County. The Club is located within a multi-generational community center, and the BGCMA kids benefit by being in the same space as senior citizens and other community members.

So far, the campaign, which has been in its quiet phase, has raised $20.3 million. It also has pending requests for another $2.85 million.

That means the campaign still needs to raise $7.2 million, which it hopes to complete by the end of the year.

In addition to the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, other major donors so far include the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation ($1.5 million), Papa John’s Foundation ($500,000), the Georgia Power Foundation ($350,000), Tull Charitable Foundation ($300,000) and the Cousins Foundation ($300,000). The BGCMA board, trustees and committee members raised $3.9 million and individuals have donated more than $1.3 million.

David Jernigan, CEO of BGCMA, stand’s next to the organization’s mission statement. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The Covid pandemic did impact the number of children participating in the metro Atlanta clubs.

“Before the pandemic, we were serving about 2,800 kids per day,” Jernigan said. “Now we are about 2,200. In terms of membership, we had 7,000 members pre-pandemic. Today, we are at about 4,000 members. We plan to be back at 7,000 members by the summer. And our goal is to have 10,000 by 2025.”

Because many students fell behind in their education during the pandemic, BGCMA – with help from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funding (a total of nearly $5 million in two rounds) enabled BGCMA to add certified teachers in all of its clubs. To be able to continue that program through the end of 2025, the nonprofit will need to raise $2.7 million.

Simon Bloom, immediate past board chair who has been involved with BGCMA for 25 years, Monday spoke of the strategic shift underway.

“We know that the program and the place works,” Bloom said of the Clubs. But there’s so much that needs to be done to make it work better. We are adding more wrap-around services with a focus on health and wellness. It’s adding people and technology to improve and increase our capacity.”

The campaign also will help address one of the major obstacles – getting kids to the Clubs. “Transportation is a big issue,” he said. “If we can get them to the Clubs, we can help.”

BGCMA also has been using information from the United Way of Greater Atlanta to determine where and how it invests.

We are guided by the United Way heat map for children in need,” Bloom said. “We are expanding our programs and services in an intelligent way.”

Map of all the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. (Special: BGCMA.)

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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