By Simon H. Bloom, Esq. | Board Chair, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta

It all started with a spark of passion.

It was 1998. Brand new to Atlanta, brand new to the practice of law, and brand new to “adulthood,” I found myself seated at a table with Atlanta business leaders in Centennial Park.  I ate a hamburger, and a 10-year-old boy from the Pittsburgh community of Atlanta named Theo ate a steak. In fact, all of the adults ate hamburgers, and all of the kids ate steaks.  All of the adults were white and wore business suits.  All of the kids were Black and wore everyday school clothes.  It dawned on me at that moment how incredibly unfamiliar it must have been for Theo and his mates to find themselves in this setting.  Heck, even I felt a bit out of my element at first.  Imagine how these 10- and 11-year-olds from a vastly different background felt.  On the other hand, it was an amazing opportunity to bring these worlds together and allow each to teach the other, allow each exposure to the other.  For as much as it would enrich the lives of the kids, the enrichment for the adults would be ten-fold.  This was my first of 23 “Steak and Burger” events, where I realized two things: 1) I wanted to devote my free time to serving underprivileged youth in my new hometown, and 2) the Boys & Girls Clubs was the premier platform from which to do it. 

My passion for youth development and social services has not waivered. In 2017, I founded Hope + Access, a non-profit that supports Atlanta’s underserved families through partnerships with churches in the community. And in 2020, I became the Board Chair for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA), an organization I have supported for nearly 20 years with stints as president of the Fulton County board, chair of the metro resource development committee, chief liaison between the metro board of directors and the county boards, and board chair elect. I have done everything from wash dishes to mentoring Youth of the Year candidates to coaching the first metro-wide choir.

I am deeply moved by the work our talented & passionate staff do each day at our 23 Clubs to ignite the unlimited potential of kids & teens through safe, inclusive, and engaging environments. Often overlooked are our 200+ volunteer leaders who are equally vital to our sustainability. 

Our volunteer leaders are the engine that empowers our RISE 2025 five-year strategic plan to serve more kids, more often and with greater impact. Our volunteer leaders raise money, build strategic partnerships, strengthen corporate support, and deepen our relationships in the communities we serve.

As Board Chair, I am charged with leading the strategic direction of BGCMA, but I certainly don’t do it alone. I am honored to work alongside top-notch professionals from a myriad of backgrounds who comprise our three-tiered governance structure:

  1. Trustees: our 10-member advisory group of influential and well-connected individuals with limited time but an endless passion for our mission and vision. 
  2. Board of Directors: our governing body of approximately 40 Board Members are responsible for providing strategic leadership, ensuring financial stability, serving as ambassadors for the organization, supporting & supervising the CEO, and ensuring healthy governance. 
  3. County Boards: our advisory groups of approximately 170 community-based leaders are established in each of the 10 counties we serve. They are responsible for advocating and securing resources for the Club(s) in their county. 

As our youth continue to battle social-emotional and academic challenges exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers are especially essential. Thus, over the past year, BGCMA has taken a strategic approach to identify the best volunteer leaders who reflect the communities we serve and hold positions at Atlanta-based industries where we lacked representation. 

Our Board Development Committee has led our efforts to recruit and appoint 10 new Board Members of diverse backgrounds & perspectives, as well as expertise & skillsets. Our Class of 2021 cohort includes 7 people of color, 5 women, and 5 men from a myriad of industries:

  • Darius Bates is Partner at McKinsey & Company, where he uncovers strategic insights that drive impact and measurable results for leading companies. 
  • Erica Bolden is Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Corporate Social Responsibility at Mercedes-Benz USA, where she oversees internal and external relationships and designs strategies to attract, develop and advance the most talented individuals in support of a diverse workforce. 
  • John Bottini is an Associate General Counsel of Environmental, Health, & Safety at Koch, where he provides legal support in the areas of environmental, health & safety, product stewardship, and internal investigations. 
  • Solange Claudio is President & Chief Client Officer at Zenith US, Moxie, and MRY. Highly skilled in digital and integrated marketing, she serves on our Resource Development & Marketing Committee. 
  • Jerald Estime is VP of Real Estate at Levi Strauss & Co. With more than 25 years of experience in commercial real estate, construction and facilities, he brings extensive focus on strategic planning, data driven decision making, profit optimization, and collaborative leadership alignment. 
  • Charisse Evans is the VP of Employee Relations at Delta, where she also serves as the executive sponsor of SHE, an employee business resource group for women. In 2019, she was named one of Moves Magazine “Power Women,” and listed her as one of the20 influential women in the travel industry. 
  • Derek Goshay is the VP of Safety & Sustainability at Genuine Parts Company, where he directs organizational global safety initiatives and programs. 
  • Eric Hagan is VP of Finance for Supply Chain, Home Depot, where he serves as the primary finance partner to the supply chain organization. 
  • Cloteen Jasmin, Esq., is Senior VP of Development, Ryan Companies US, Inc. With more than two decades in the real estate industry, she holds a wealth of experience in accounting, corporate management, brokerage, and law. 
  • Judy Starkey is a Special Investment Partner at Glen Partners and Founder of Chamberlin Edmonds & Associates, Inc. She serves on several private company boards and on the Executive Committee for Baddour Memorial Center, a privately run center for adults with challenges. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention our newly appointed Board of Trustee Member Steve Romaniello, Managing Director of Roark Capital Group and Board Chairman of FOCUS Brands.

Like you, our new and seasoned volunteer leaders are working professionals with careers and families that demand their attention. Yet, however busy their lives are, they continue to give their time, talent, and resources to support our mission. They continue to step up for our kids & teens in meaningful and unimaginable ways. So too can you. 

I challenge you to find that nonprofit that fills your heart.  Our town needs your help now more than ever.  We need to stop talking about it and start doing it.

Twenty-three years ago, I took a bite of a dry and overcooked burger in Centennial Park. After spending that night listening to Theo’s story and the stories of so many kids in his station, my eyes were anything but dry.  My heart was full, and my spark ignited.  

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