Notes from the Top

Crowning a New Youth of the Year

It’s a new year, and with it comes a new Youth of the Year. After several months of preparation, it came down to two young ladies who each had a story about how the Club had positively impacted their life. Jazzelle Elias, a freshman from Sedro-Woolley, and Claire Severin, a senior from Anacortes were our finalists for the 2015 Youth of the Year program. Together, they spoke in front of an overflow crowd at the Eaglemont Golf Club in late January. They were just two of the youth speakers that kept our guests and stakeholders fascinated from beginning to end about how truly marvelous our kids are.

Mr. Justice Lively, our 2014 Youth of the Year, and 2015 Washington State Youth of the Year, was on-hand to celebrate and pass the torch to the next young person selected to represent Skagit County at the state program in March. Justice, as our first State Youth of the Year, will always hold a special place in everyone’s hearts, and his words were well received by all present. With his trademark smile beaming in full force, Mr. Lively provided us an update as to his progress academically, and how he was fully on track with his career preparation goals.

Then, it was time for a legend to take the stage; Don Wick, inducted into the Washington State Alumni Hall of Fame, was in full force and immediately had the crowd laughing and a celebrating as he prepared to announce the newest Youth of the Year honoree for Skagit County. While all of our teens did a magnificent job and truly grew through their participation, it was young Jazzelle who would hear her name announced.

Jazzelle is a 4.0 student who participates in the music program at Sedro-Woolley High School, enjoys community service and giving back, and credits the Club with providing her with a safe place to explore new opportunities. As she shares in her story, growing up in Temecula, CA was difficult, especially because of drug use, and the resulting paraphernalia littering the ground everywhere. Jazzelle says, “As a Club member I’ve done good in my community, made new friends, gained a support system, had fun, and gained a second family in the process. Most importantly, I’ve had experiences that I never imagined were possible when i was just a little girl walking by a pile of used needles.”

Next up for Jazzelle will be preparing for the state program in March. Over the next six weeks she will make a circuit of service club meetings, visit the City Council, School Board, and get tips and a review from a local Toastmasters Club. As part of the state program, Jazzelle will meet her counterparts from 14 other Boys & Girls Club organizations, enjoy breakfast at the Governor’s Mansion, attend additional developmental workshops, have some fun, and ultimately once again go through the process of speech delivery and a gauntlet of interviews. We all wish Jazzelle well for her journey, and we are proud to have her representing our 1,600 members in Skagit County.


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A Week of Reverie

Tonight we begin my favorite part of the year, kicking things off with a week of Dinners with Friends in Anacortes, La Conner, Mount Vernon, and Sedro-Woolley. The purpose of these simple events isn’t to raise money, but instead awareness, of all that Clubs do in their communities to effect change in the lives of the youth ages 6-18 we serve each year. 

It’s a night that belongs to our members, as they serve in various capacities, presenting awards to one another, and speaking as they complete the Club-level Youth of the Year, and Jr. Youth of the Year process. It is their first official step in a process that includes a retreat in Ellensburg in January with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County, and then our Youth of the Year Dinner on Wednesday, January 27th. That night one member will be crowned Youth of the Year for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County, and follow in the footsteps of Justice Lively, who became the first Club kid from Skagit County to earn the Washington State Youth of the Year title in 2015.

Throughout this process, our Club kids can earn a minimum of $500 in College Scholarships for being selected to represent their Club, an additional $1,500 for representing the organization, and another $5,000 at the State level. Should they be successful regionally, they earn $40,000 more in scholarships, and a trip to the White House to participate nationally. 

Historically, Washington State has had a very strong representation for Youth of the Year, many times earning the Pacific-West Region honor, therefore all our kids certainly have their work cut out for them. We know they will represent our communities well, and the growth that occurs in their lives as they transition through this process is tangible. Confidence, new public speaking and interview skills, attention to detail, work place preparation – the development happens and forever changes the lives and trajectories of those who participate.

For now though, I just look forward to hearing the stories from these dynamic teens and tweens as they courageously stand in front of strangers and their peers, share their challenges, and how the Club has helped them to overcome the many obstacles presented to them. Seeing all the kids win their awards and simply beam with pride and enthusiasm renews my own energy and passion to work harder so that we can ensure we stay focused strong on our mission: to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. With what I know I will see in the next week, we are doing just that.

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Where has the time gone?

One would think that a deficit of blog entries might mean that nothing was really going on in our Clubs this summer. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

I have to admit that as I begin to compose this that I’m feeling a little guilty. My intention in creating this was to post every couple of weeks, and I certainly give my staff a hard time for not updating their web posts and social media, so I suppose I owe myself some disciplinary action of some sort. 

The last three months are just a whirlwind. It really kicked-off with our Keys for Kids event at the end of June, followed shortly by a week in Los Angeles, CA with our Washington State Youth of the Year, Justice Lively. He represented our community and state quite well, but fell just shy of earning the title of Pacific Region Youth of the Year. It was perhaps in his loss that I became most proud of him; during the announcement, as the look of shock and disappointment registered on so many of his peers’ faces, Justice simply beamed his trademark smile, and as his arms seemed to grow by a matter of feet, he reached out, brought all his new friends in for a hug and provided comfort. That is the type of young men and women we are growing in Skagit County, to lead further generations through humility, perseverance, and strong modeling of positive character traits.

In early August we learned that an application to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Washington for funding that would establish two extension locations at Mount Baker and LaVenture Middle Schools in Mount Vernon was successful. We are one of just five agencies that were awarded funding, from more than 22 applications, in a highly competitive field. Just days later, as we huddled underneath a pavilion at Avalon Golf Links because a freak weather event had interrupted our 20th Annual Golf Tournament, we received a call from our friends at the Tesoro Corporation. Back in June, at our Keys for Kids event, they announced a $50,000 a year investment for three years to support STEM programs in our Clubs. At their Foundation Board meeting, it was decided to increase that investment – to $130,000 annually. The transformational possibilities are significant, and will allow us to grow our capacity and develop stronger infrastructure so that we can serve our current members better in this area, but also take our programs beyond the walls of our Clubhouses. 

So, there it is. We’ve been a little busy, and somehow, we managed to also serve more than 30,000 meals to youth this summer. Our organization continues to grow and thrive thanks to the leadership of our Board of Directors and support from our community. We’re receiving attention from all over as a Boys & Girls Club agency on the rise, which just pushes us to work even harder on behalf of the 1,500+ youth we serve each year.

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You may have noticed this on some of our banners, in emails, on social media – #skagitpride. It’s our celebration tag, and have we had a lot to celebrate this year. Much of it has been covered in our newsletters, in the paper, in our Annual Report, and other publications. There are now two more reasons to have #skagitpride.

Recently, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County learned that it was in the top 10% of Clubs across the United States for growth – 26.7% for 2014. This is a tremendous achievement, especially when considering that we did not reach this status by opening a new site or adding programs. Instead, we’ve stretched the capacity of our facilities and reinvested in programs and staff development. Through this, a better Club experience results, and more kids start attending more often. We are already on a pace to break last year’s record of 1,479 youth served, and look to do even more through partnerships and collaboration.

Significant growth is also occurring in our summer programs. For the second year, we are open from the first day of summer vacation to the last. It puts a strain on our facilities and staff without a break between the vastly different types of programs, but our families need us, and we simply have had to find ways to resolve things outside of program times. Because of this, and kids simply voting with their feet, our summer enrollment is up, with Clubs reporting increases of 18-92% over last year. THAT makes us have #skagitpride.

Our Clubs would not have the opportunity to continue serving more and more kids if it were not for our hardworking Board of Directors, community partners, advocates, donor-investors, corporate and business sponsors. Thanks to all for empowering us to make a difference in the lives of youth in our communities. Because of you, #skagitpride is alive and well. 

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Take Time at a Club

What a year this has been! I’ve been so privileged to gain many memories with our kids in Skagit County, especially over the last few months. Taking time out from a busy schedule and spending time with them, whether it is dropping by a Club for a few minutes and playing mancala with one of our members in Mount Vernon, who always catches me cheating, or accompanying a group on a field trip, I am blessed to be able to see our staff in action, and see the way they change lives each and every day. 

This may be my vocation, but I am also a donor-investor in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County, like so many others. After all, how can one request another to consider taking that step when they haven’t themselves?  So, I take my investment seriously, and strive to protect and stretch the resources our community has entrusted in us. By getting out into the field regularly, I can maintain a close pulse on how we are doing, that no report or statistic that comes across my desk is going to show.

Our staff and members love to show off their Clubs. It’s like a part of their family that they are so very proud of. I encourage everyone in our community to spend a few minutes at a Club now and then to see first-hand what our committed staff and members do with children that generate productive, caring, responsible citizens. Or, call our Admin office at 360-419-3723 and inquire as to the when the next Club Tour is happening. We’re quite happy to load up one of our Club vans and take individuals to two or more of our Clubs to see how each is unique and effective in its’ service delivery.

In just a couple of weeks we start our summer program, this year growing to expand to be able to offer free lunch to all our youth thanks to a partnership with the USDA. It’s just one of many ways we are exploring collaborations as a means to better serve our youth, families, and Skagit community. 

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We got schmoozed!


It was my first SchmoozeFair, and I wasn’t quite sure what I should expect. Our veteran staff had attended in the past, and so I wasn’t completely caught off-guard. I just knew that we had a story to share with Skagit County, and with all of our recent successes, we wanted to celebrate and have a larger presence than the organization previously had.

If you attended the event, you know it was nearly impossible to get away from a sea of our staff in their bright Club shirts. We filled the aisle outside our booth, welcoming everyone, and our staff floated throughout the event, increasing our exposure. Beyond a simple means of increasing our brand awareness, the event also served as some important bonding time for our staff members. Having so many community members stop by and share with us their own view on the importance of Clubs in Skagit County really boosted spirits. We also made many new friends. 

Thank you to everyone who participated in our drawing for two tickets to the Keys for Kids event in June. Joshua Anfinson was our lucky winner!

Be sure to look for us again this fall at the Skagit River Salmon Festival on September 12th, on the grounds at the Swinomish Casino & Hotel. We’ll be hosting the KidZone, engaging youth through a variety of activities to encourage conservation and a greater understanding of our impact on the environment.

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Inspiring Stewardship

In early March, I challenged our Club Directors to use their time during spring break to demonstrate stewardship to our Club kids by getting out in the community more and showing our thanks. It’s only with our community partners and collaboration that we can provide the services we do to the number of kids we affect in such a positive way each year.  Beyond just completing a task for the betterment of our organization, an incentive was offered that would stretch their planning skills, writing abilities, and marketing knowledge. Each would turn in a one page narrative with one page of pictures about their experience, with one submission selected to earn a $250 shopping spree for additional board games and equipment.

Yesterday I received my first submission, and it was about as perfect as one would hope. The statement of activities was clear, stories compelling, and photos just pretty darn good overall. In their narrative, they shared how, at first, when the activities of the week were discussed and staff talked about the Stewardship trips in their town, kids responded with “It sounds boring.” But what did they do for ME?” “Why does it matter?” The concept was explained again, broken down for the young people.

They started off on their journey, and it took two days, but by then the members were hooked. In fact, some had to be asked to stay behind because there wasn’t enough room to transport them because of no more space in the van. The members enjoyed meeting people who had worked together to make their Club a reality. During one such trip, a business owner asked, “Why are you here today?” Their answer? “We are here because without you, we wouldn’t be wearing these Club shirts right now.”

It took a bit, but the concept stuck, and as the week progressed staff also noticed a change in the kids at the Club. Now they are walking around the Club reminding one another to put things away after they are done; they are treating Club equipment with respect, because they had met the very people who had invested in the Club and helped to provide it for them. Bingo. It’s a nice day to work with kids when they demonstrate such knowledge and understanding without prompt.  So be proud Skagit County, the next generation of leaders are on their way to make a mark!

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The Start of Something New

As the second year of my tenure as CEO/Executive Director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County begins, a realization came that it would be nice to  regularly share the journey we are taking as an organization. I’m so proud of what we are accomplishing that I often simply want to shout from the rooftops, but we are on ground level at our Administrative Offices, and are largely surrounded by bushes. It would not only be futile, one might question one’s own mental health in doing so.

March was a good month for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County. Our annual Breakfast for GREAT Kids reached new records in funds raised toward operations of our four Clubhouses, and the following week, Mount Vernon’s Justice Lively was named the 2014 Washington State Youth of the Year. That’s a first for our Clubs, and something we are really enjoying the celebration of. 

As April begins, the excitement continues. On Saturday, April 4th, two vans of kids will be heading to Seattle to have an incredible experience.

As the Washington State Youth of the Year, Justice was invited, along with his military counterpart, to attend the match in style, pitch-side at private tables with their advisors. Since we’d be sending a van down anyway, we reached out to the Sounders FC to inquire about getting a few general admission seats so we could bring more youth. They responded with 8 tickets to a VIP Suite! Then, the following day we got a call from our friends in Thurston County who invited 11 more kids down to take part in the pre-game festivities with Sounders FC players. There are some major surprises in store for the 18 kids departing from Skagit County early in the afternoon tomorrow. 

It’s these type of opportunities and partnerships that really set our Clubs apart as leaders in the youth development field. 

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Notes from the Top

Coming soon, blog posts from our Executive Director, Ron McHenry

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