Know your nonprofits: Boys and Girls Club

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Memphis knows a highly trained workforce is the backbone of a strong local economy. After identifying the fastest growing careers in Memphis, they started engaging area youth in hands-on skills training for those very jobs.
“Boys & Girls Clubs are places where great futures are started each and every day,” said Keith Blanchard, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis. “Our programs and services promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence. Boys & Girls Clubs are a safe place to learn and grow – all while having fun.”
The organization began in Memphis in 1969 with a goal of mentoring young men in the community but its role has expanded to include girls. Its methods have also changed over time in response to societal shifts. 
“An increasing number of children are at home with no adult care or supervision,” explained Blanchard. “Young people need to know that someone cares about them. Without organizations like ours, kids are left to find their own recreation and companionship in the streets.”
To meet this need, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis (BGCM) provides youth programs across the city conducted by trained professionals. The organization currently operates six traditional club sites and a residential summer camp. The staff continually evaluates the needs of their kids and the results of their programs to improve and evolve with the changing times.
One of the most unique elements of the organization is BGCM’s Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center. Unemployment is a major issue for young people across Shelby County; even young people with college degrees often find it difficult to land a job. 
“Though the standard of education in Memphis has improved in recent years, there is still a shortage of vocational and technical training opportunities,” said Blanchard. “Most of the focus in the education sector has been towards academic subjects. One of the most frustrating things about the public education system is the way it tends to lump everyone together. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line the importance of having education standards morphed into an emphasis on the importance of standardizing education.”
“It seems like people sometimes forget how much we need skilled workers. A highly trained workforce is the backbone of a strong, diverse economy. Not everybody wants to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a business executive—and that’s a good thing. We as a society could not function if they did,” concluded Blanchard.
In response to this issue, and after a careful evaluation of the Memphis job market, one of BGCM’s major supporters, Jay Martin, helped them develop a world-class vocational training program at the Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center. 
The Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis (TTC) is a 24,000 square foot facility that offers training for members, ages 16 to 21, in some of the fastest growing career fields in Memphis – culinary arts, tower gardens/gardens to groceries, logistics, welding, automotive, customer service and, most recently, information and technology. The program enrolls 250 to 300 students each year, with 100 percent of graduates going directly into jobs, the military or college.  
“The program takes the mission of BGCM to the next level,” said Blanchard. “Young people face a difficult conundrum:  they can't get a job without experience, but they can't get experience without first landing a job. The TTC provides students with invaluable experience and training. It’s all about giving these young people a way to support themselves.”
“For example, in the culinary program, there's a commercial kitchen and dining area at the TTC where students in the culinary program learn how to work in either the front-of-house (serving, catering) or back-of-house (cooking, food prep) food service operations,” explained Blanchard.
As a nonprofit organization, Blanchard said that volunteers are the core of their organization. 
“Volunteering is an enormous resource to our nonprofit organization and the communities we serve. Volunteers serve on our boards, they are mentors to our youth and they work countless hours at our fundraising events,” said Blanchard. “Volunteering is a powerful, practical and sustainable way to tackle poverty and inequality, all of which are issues that Boys & Girls Clubs deal with each and every day.”
“It’s the overall experience that is so powerful. Sometimes it’s the simple things, like that big smile you see on a child’s face when he or she solves a difficult task, or the high five you get from a kid at the end of a game. But benefits of volunteering also include new networking contacts, development of new skills, an enhanced resume, new work experience, greater self-esteem and self-confidence, and meeting new people. But for me, the most important thing is feeling valued and having made a difference in someone's life.”
Interested in supporting Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis? See a list of available volunteer opportunities at Volunteer Memphis
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Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.