Written by Corinne Garcia Wednesday, December 21 2011Snapshot: Roxanne Spillett, president & CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of America
|CEO Roxanne Spillett with club kids.|
Here, Spillett discusses her time with the organization and what she sees in its future.
Womenetics: How much has changed for America’s youth since you took over as president and CEO in 1996?
Roxanne Spillett: I think the myriad of challenges and their complexity has definitely increased, which is why a national youth organization such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America must always stay a step ahead to anticipate the needs of the young people we serve.
When I became president/CEO, technology was in its infancy. There was no Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, for better or worse. Technology has definitely affected how young people learn and play and whether they can successfully compete in the future work force. Unfortunately, there has been a downside, with an increase in cyberbullying that, unlike the more traditional name calling on the playground, is 24/7 and lives online forever.
I also think it’s fair to say that the definition of young people most at risk has been redefined, and with this the number has significantly increased. Risk is no longer limited to struggling urban neighborhoods, but has taken root in suburbia as well. The number of single parents has grown, with many families facing tough economic challenges for the first time. Boys & Girls Clubs across the country have experienced an uptick in demand for services while faced with a bigger challenge to secure funding – both from the public and private sector.
Womenetics: What do you see as the most important issues facing our kids today?
Spillett: There are three major issues creating a serious crisis for young people with the potential of jeopardizing the economic future of America and our capacity to remain competitive in the world marketplace. First, consider that today one out of three students is not graduating high school on time. When you break out minority youth, the numbers escalate significantly.
In a country where unemployment has hovered in the double digits in certain markets for months and with many being told day-in and day-out, “Sorry you simply don’t have the skill set required for the job,” the long-term outlook continues to be troublesome.
Likewise, childhood obesity continues to be one of the major causes of skyrocketing medical costs, impacting government budgets on both the local and national level and, most importantly for the first time, creating a generation of children that researchers say will not live as long or have a “better life” than their parents.
|National spokesperson and club alumnus
Denzel Washington, left; club alumnus
Ashanti; National Youth of the Year
Mona Dixon; and CEO Roxanne Spillett
Given these troubling times, we have redoubled our emphasis on three key outcome areas: academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles.
Womenetics: How do you think your work has made a difference?
Spillett: Although many point to the significant growth in the number of Boys & Girls Clubs during my tenure, it’s important to note this growth was highly strategic – opening clubs on Native American lands, military installations worldwide, in public housing, and in schools.
As a building-centered, out-of-school-time program in these environments, many of which have no other options for youth, Boys & Girls Clubs have served as a safety net for children and their families.
Consider that in a survey of club alumni conducted by Harris Interactive, 57 percent said, “The Club saved my life.”
Because I was a single mother, I understand the myriad obstacles faced daily by those who need the most, but have the least. And I believe that every child should have the opportunity for a great future.
Womenetics: Where have you and Boys & Girls Clubs had the most success?
Spillett: We’ve been working to address the academic achievement gap with programs that provide homework help, by mentoring kids in danger of dropping out of school, and by offering technology education. We also teach them about careers and how best to manage money.
Over the past 15 years we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of club kids who graduate high school. We’re actually graduating more kids from our clubs as a percentage than the population as a whole.
To help kids with their health, we created a set of programs to help young people develop positive behaviors that support positive physical, mental, and social health. Club involvement helps youth reduce their risky behaviors, including drugs, sexual activity, smoking, and alcohol.
We have also placed a major emphasis on ensuring club members are actively engaged in the communities where they live. It’s important for society to recognize how teens today will determine the future and why we all need to invest in them.
Womenetics: Where does the organization still have a lot of work to do?
Spillett: Since we are in the “business of building better young people,” we must remain current on the issues that have the capacity to defer dreams or topple expectations. This requires a certain amount of nimbleness, but most importantly youth development professionals who are totally committed and for whom failure is not an option.
And because our work is all encompassing and holistic, we must work to help the general public and donors understand the full scope of our work by demonstrating the positive impact Boys & Girls Clubs make on the young people we serve and the communities in which clubs are located.
It’s been said recently that there’s a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Many of the latter – kids from disadvantaged circumstances – are served by the organization’s 4,000 clubs.
Womenetics: What are your observations while visiting these clubs, including those on military installations and Native American land?
Spillett: In spite of some very difficult circumstances, I remain hopeful for America’s young people as I have seen firsthand the power of just one person to change forever the future of a child. So many young people today are just looking for a sense of belonging, understanding, influence, and confidence, which simply requires a meaningful connection with a caring and compassionate adult mentor.
In my more than 30 years of working with young people, I have found most of them yearn for a hand to guide them and a sense that someone truly cares about what happens to them; someone who expects great things from them.
Womenetics: The economy is tough on nonprofits right now. How do you illustrate the organization’s ROI?
Spillett: We’ve certainly seen the impact of this economy on donations. We’re working even harder to show clear qualitative and quantitative results because we know ROI is a key factor on the decision to give.
Boys & Girls Clubs represent the best investment for corporations, government, and individuals to improve the quality of life in their communities. Our research shows that any money given to clubs contributes to higher high school graduation rates, lower teen pregnancy, and less crime. Since the clubs are a safe place for kids to go after school, parents can work and earn more and don’t have to spend their money on expensive after-school care.
Womenetics: What can people (parents and guardians, community leaders, teachers, etc) do to help?
Spillett: We ask everyone to find the best means to invest in the nation’s youth. For many people that could mean giving of their time by volunteering at a local club. Others may choose to provide financial support.
Many corporations have partnered with us recognizing the young people we serve represent the pool of potential employees. Even more importantly, they see the need for these same young people to graduate from high school on time with a plan for the future, so they can actively consume, creating a demand for services and products.
Womenetics: What will you miss most about this job?
Spillett: It’s very difficult to focus on just one thing, but I think it’s visiting the hundreds of Boys & Girls Clubs every year where I find passionate and resourceful youth professionals who share my vision of creating a great future for every young person who walks through the Boys & Girls Club door.
Womenetics: What’s the next step for you?
Spillett: As I have been telling my colleagues, “I’m not leaving Boys & Girls Clubs completely.” I will continue to offer counsel as needed for BGCA’s new President and CEO Jim Clark, who by the way has distinguished himself on the national stage by conducting innovative youth development programs with measurable outcomes.
I will also continue to teach nonprofit board management to graduate students at the University of Notre Dame. But I’m definitely not going to retire; I’m just not made of that stuff.
However, most importantly, traveling less will allow me to spend more time with my two grandchildren who insist on a bedtime story every night.
Corinne Garcia is a freelance writer and editor living with her husband and two young boys in Bozeman, Mont. She has also written for Women’s Adventure, Christian Science Monitor, Northwest Travel, Pregnancy, Fit Pregnancy, and Fit Parent.