Michael Johnson reflects on one year with the Boys & Girls Club
|Michael Johnson is surrounded by some of the many youth
who frequent the Boys & Girls Club on Taft Street.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
Several years ago, it seemed that the Boys & Girls Club made a
conscious decision to withdraw form the communities that surrounded
them, gently pushing community meetings and groups to other venues
and focusing on youth development activities. It stopped being a
neighborhood center and became more like a private club for kids. While
BGC was successful in raising large amounts of private funding, its
public support base began to erode.
When Michael Johnson came on board as the president/CEO of the Boys
& Girls Club, he got a lot of advice from a lot of sectors about what was
right — and wrong — with the club. One of those things that was wrong,
in many people’s estimation, was its lack of community connection.
Johnson became determined to bring the club out of its self-made cocoon
and make the club a vital hub of community life.
With the change in the president/CEO position and Johnson’s new hires,
change has also occurred on the board leadership level. Darrell Bazzell,
vice chancellor for administration at UW-Madison has been elected board
chair and Chris Fortune, president of Saris Cycling is now the board vice-chair. “I think with their leadership, we’re going to do great
things for kids in this community,” Johnson said.
In order to expand the level and quality of programming at the club, Johnson instituted a fee for children enrolling in the club’s summer
camp for the first time, which did not go down well in all quarters. “We surveyed the parents and we found there were some families
who could afford summer camp,” Johnson said. “We had over 600 kids in our summer camp. We had 301 kids who were 7-13 years old
and our teen camp had almost 300 kids. What I heard from our staff is it is hard to serve that many kids with the amount of resources
that we had. And so because we charged a very minimum fee — $100 for the entire summer — it generated about $15,000 in revenue.
We were able to send our staff to training for an entire week. And we went from hiring seven junior staff from the community to 16 to
help us run our summer camp.”
Johnson also reached out to the Latino community through radio shows at La Movida, which significantly increased the number of
Latino children who attended the club’s summer camps in 2010.
While the Boys & Girls Club operates a lot of its own programs, Johnson is committed to working with other agencies and organizations
to expand the number of offerings for youth and adults in the community. The Dane County Transition School and the Neighborhood
Intervention Program are offering programs in the club. It is also poised to launch a new collaboration with the YMCA.
“We’re going to put in an exercise room. Our goal is to raise $200,000 to put a fitness facility in both of our clubs. We actually have
crafted a proposal in partnership with the YMCA. I don’t want our Boys & Girls Clubs to run it. The YMCA’s staff has that level of
expertise. We want to bring their certified personal trainers in. We want to bring in their nutritionist to work with our kitchen staff and
kids. We want to open up this fitness center to the community. I don’t know of any fitness facilities that are in the heart of South Madison
that our families and kids can go to. And I don’t know of any in the Allied Drive community. While our kids are in school during the day, I
want folks to be able to come inside of the Boys & Girls Club and take advantage of this fitness facility. My plan is — I’m going to be
conservative — during the next 12 months, I want to see that happen. But I’m going to push real hard to see that happen in the next 3-4
One common criticism that has been made about the Boys & Girls Club is the lack of discipline on the part of some of the children and
the inability of the club to get a handle on it in order to maximize its tutoring and other after school programs.
“I’m not going to say that we resolved those disciplinary issues,” Johnson said. “I think it is drastically better. We now have
homerooms at both of the clubs. We now have mandatory tutoring at both of the clubs. There are program schedules. So when the kids
come in, they know the very first thing they have to do is go to homeroom. And we have now instituted what we call CRP, a conflict
resolution program that our youth managers have instituted. It is going extremely well. So our programs are a lot more organized, the
kids know which programs they need to be in. We were able to do that because we’ve been able to hire additional staff to run those
The Boys & Girls Club is a well-known brand and national model that is attractive to communities interested in developing their youth
programming. And so Johnson has fielded inquiries from other communities in Dane County about starting clubs in their communities.
“I’m actually meeting tomorrow with the former mayor and the folks at Badger Rock Middle School,” Johnson said. “They’re building a
community center in that school and we’re having conversations about Boys & Girls Club possibly running that community center. We
also have met with the mayor and the youth commission out in Sun Prairie. They are very interested in starting a Boys & Girls Club.
We’ve had a series of community meetings and hearings. They are now doing a survey to determine whether or not there is a need for a
club in that community. I’m meeting with some leaders out in Stoughton. They want to start a Boys & Girls Club in their community. But
for me, it’s more than jut starting a club. The question is how you sustain it. So I’ve been cautiously meeting with people, but I tell them
that we won’t start any program that we can’t sustain. There are funding streams out there that we know of that can help us support
some of these programs. The issue is you need the capital upfront to start it and then you need that time to ramp up your fundraising
efforts to be able to sustain it. And so, I am very interested in looking at serving kids in other communities.”
Johnson is building on the foundation established by others over the club’s 12 year history and is now poised to take the club to the next
level ion the South Madison area and beyond.