Igniting Great Futures Behind & Beyond the ‘Blue Doors’ of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta
By Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA)
What is the Blue Door?
The Blue Door symbolizes the great futures that lie behind every Boys & Girls Club threshold. At Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA), it is behind our Blue Doors where we ignite the unlimited potential of kids and teens ages 6-18 by offering safe, inclusive, and engaging environments.
For more than 80 years, BGCMA has worked alongside families, schools, and community partners to support more than 100,000 youth on their journey to live healthy, succeed in school, lead successful careers, and serve as positive role models. Starting with just one Club on Washington Street in 1938, we have grown to more than 25 Clubs in high-need communities throughout Metro Atlanta, serving more than 7,000 kids and teens each year.
Many youth living in Metro Atlanta face a complex web of challenges throughout childhood and adolescence. Currently, kids born into the bottom 20 percent of Atlanta’s income distribution have a less than five percent chance of making it to the top quintile—among the lowest odds of economic mobility in the country. Our kids are resilient, and with the support of their Clubs they are succeeding in school, building strong character and leadership skills, and making healthy choices.
Meet Karissa Jackson
“Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta has shaped me from start to finish, through my transitions from child to tween to teen to adult,” said Karissa Jackson. “It instilled the foundation of leadership and service, which has transcended into every aspect of my life from sorority life to college and the workplace. I am indebted to the bright future that started behind those Blue Doors.”
A rising senior sociology major at Clark Atlanta University, Jackson first stepped into a Club at age nine when her mother needed a safe and affordable place for her to go after school. From age 9-18, the Lawrenceville Boy & Girls Club became a community that would transform the trajectory of her life.
During Karissa’s time behind the Blue Doors, she was provided with “scholarships, college tours, SAT waivers, ACT waivers, food, community service, friendships, love, education, and a safe place,” she said. In 2018, Jackson served as her Club’s Youth of the Year, and before departing the Blue Doors was nominated for an opportunity that made college a reality. “Thanks to my Boys & Girls Club, I was awarded a $100,000 college scholarship through Beyonce and Jay Z’s BeyGOOD Initiative and Shawn Carter Foundation,” she said. “I have zero debt, and I treasure that.”
Today, Jackson serves as a Youth Artist Mentor at the newly renovated John H. Harland Boys & Girls Club “The Innovation and Expression Studio” (T.I.E.S.). She works under the supervision of Harland Club Executive Director John Strong, who was once her Teen Director at the Lawrenceville Club.
“Working with Mr. Strong is the blessing I never knew I needed,” she said. “Specifically, coming back to school after COVID-19. At that time, I was feeling extremely lost and without a home, almost like I didn’t know who I was anymore. Coming to work with John Strong makes me feel like I’m on top of the world every day. Why? Because of the pure support and love I get every day I see him.”
At the heart of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta are youth development professionals like John Strong who cultivate inclusive spaces and impart positive values that our Club members take with them into their communities and their futures.
Meet Sensei Joshua White
On the bottom floor of the Warren Boys & Girls Club lies a champion’s dojo. It’s where 12-year-olds Elijah and Jannaco have spent the past two years training in the martial art form of Judo. They train under the guidance of BGCMA alumnus Sensei Joshua White, who started his Judo training at the age of four at the former W.W. Woolfolk Boys & Girls Club.
“I was a little too young to join the program, but they made an exception for me,” said Sensei White. “I did Judo in my off time while playing basketball. I was able to take this all over the world. I won junior national titles, was a high school national champion, and became one of the top players in the country. Now through my company, Black Ice Judo, I’m excited to give back the opportunity that was given to me.”
Under White’s leadership, Warren Club members Elijah and Jannaco have become world class Judo champs, competing in hundreds of competitions across the world and acquiring titles in the Pan American Games, U.S. Open, and Caribbean Cup. In 2021, they earned gold medals in the Junior Olympics.
Our mission is fueled by a village that includes dedicated mentors like Sensei White, parents, committed partners, community leaders, and an unwavering shared belief in the unlimited potential of each and every child that enters our Blue Doors.
Meet Alonah Waterson
Alonah Waterson entered the Blue Doors of the Michael A. Grant Club at age six as a self-proclaimed bashful kid who credits BGCMA staff with helping her break out of her shell and excel by the time she exited the Blue Doors at age 18.
“Ms. Nkeschia was my very first executive director, so she had a huge impact in my life during my early developing years starting from 6 until 13,” Waterson explained. “She helped a lot with getting me involved in programs and activities and talking with new people. Mr. Tyler and Ms. Tosin helped me a lot within my teen years at the Club, helping me with scholarships and college applications/tours as well as keeping me updated on college fairs and career opportunities. Lastly, the wonderful Ms. Tyanna Jackson helped me through the last years of my high school and Club experience, making me the most comfortable and involved member that I can be. She helped me through many dark times and discouraging moments, picking me up and dusting me off every time. She is so loving and determined to make sure that I had what I needed at all times, so I could succeed with the decisions I was making for my future.”
Today, Waterson is a 2021 graduate of Chattahoochee Technical College, a full-time licensed master cosmetologist, and an on-call staff member at the James T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club, where her former Grant Club Executive Director Nkeschia Brundidge-Clark now serves as Executive Director.
Through our workforce readiness programming, Club members like Waterson are exposed to opportunities aimed to prepare them for college, work, and life. In 2021, 100% of BGCMA’s seniors graduated high school with a plan for their futures, such as 4-year college, 2-year technical school, employment or the military.
Our College & Career Readiness (CCR) program provides teens with free access to ACT/SAT preparation, workshops on resume building and interviewing, experiences like career exploration tours, college and technical school visits, and paid summer experiences.
Meet Dalyn Small
Dalyn Small entered Blue Doors of the Lawrenceville Boys & Girls Club at age 12. Throughout his five-year membership, he remained very active – leading his Club’s Keystone program, honing his spoken word and musical skills in Lyricism 101, participating in College Bound, and mentoring younger Club kids as a L.I.N.K. (Leaders in Nature’s Kingdom) member at Camp Kiwanis—BGCMA’s 160-acre outdoor residence camp.
For Small, it was programs like these that empowered him to earn a full scholarship to Herzing University, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s in IT.
“People [like longtime Lawrenceville Club Executive Director Rory Johnson] who inspire me really drove me to go and seek out opportunities,” Small said. “Through their encouragement, I joined the Treehouse coding program, which ultimately led me into getting a fulltime job as a software engineer at a local tech company.”
Opening Blue Doors
Like Jackson, White, Waterson and Small, every young person has what it takes to realize their unlimited potential. And the time is now to invest in the people, places, and programs that make that path clear. Together, we will continue to create equitable pathways for our kids and teens to excel, surround them with a village of mentors and peers throughout their K–12 experience, and launch them into a world of hope and possibility.
There is a path forward, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta has been paving that path for more than eight decades. BGCMA will continue raising the bar for itself and the Metro Atlanta community until every young person has the opportunity to soar to the heights they were destined to reach—but we cannot do it alone.
Here’s how you can help us ignite the unlimited potential of kids & teens in Metro Atlanta:
- Alumni, Connect! Become A Registered Alum: Boys & Girls Club of Metro Atlanta is building an alumni network of like-minded individuals to share Club experiences and knowledge and further their professional growth. If you are a former Boys & Girls Club Member from any branch across the nation and currently live or work in the Metro Atlanta area, we want to build, connect & share with you. https://bgcma.org/alumni/
- We’re Hiring! Join Our Family: We are actively hiring part-time youth development professionals for fall 2022. As a youth-serving non-profit, we offer an environment where employees can see the direct impact of their work on kids and in the community. Each day, we contribute to something beyond ourselves. We are igniting unlimited potential of kids & teens. We are preparing young leaders to thrive in life and strengthen the futures of their communities and the world. https://bgcma.org/careers
- Join A Club! Enroll A Club Member Today: Fall membership recruitment is currently underway. Our 25+ Clubs located across 11 Atlanta-area counties are committed to serving more kids, more often with greater impact, and we’re placing extra focus on teens. All high school students in grades 9th-12th will receive FREE membership enrollment through October 1. This is not only our way to alleviate costs for families with kids in multiple age groups, but to also expand our capacity to provide safe, inclusive and engaging environments for kids and teens across metro Atlanta. Contact your local Club to inquire about fall registration days. https://bgcma.org/joinaclub
- Invest In Atlanta’s Youth! Donate Today: If you want to deepen your impact and help us further our mission, please visit www.bgcma.org/donate and consider a reoccurring donation. Every dollar helps us sustain our great work for our Club members.