Back on its feet

Published 9:05 am Saturday, July 30, 2011

A great group of movers and shakers gathered Wednesday to get an update on the Franklin Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Virginia.

Several came at this columnist’s invitation. That’s significant only because, for the first time since joining the unit’s advisory board several years ago, I was completely comfortable inviting community leaders to take a thorough look at the club.

The Boys & Girls Club, after years of floundering, is getting its act together, and Franklin will be better as a result.

The organization’s mission has always been sound: to provide structured after-school and summer support for children who, for reasons both legitimate and illegitimate, don’t get it at home. In some cases, working, married parents have jobs that keep them busy into the evening hours and their children need a safe place to go after school. More often, single parents can’t or won’t be attentive to their children, and the Boys & Girls Club fills the void.

From 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays during the school year and all day during the summer, the Boys & Girls Club, based at S.P. Morton Elementary School, offers its members, ages 6 to 18, a well-rounded program of academic support, recreation, cultural enrichment and nutritional meals.

This is no baby-sitting service. The Boys & Girls Club day begins with Power Hour, during which youngsters do their homework and receive tutoring. The kids stay busy in productive, wholesome activities until their parents pick them up.

The alternative is unpleasant for most Boys & Girls Club members. But for the club, many would be on the streets — exposed to elements of the gang and drug culture that are derailing many young lives — or left unsupervised at home.

Despite its terrific mission, the club has often failed in recent years to live up to its potential. Financial problems and organizational deficiencies — more so at the corporate office in Norfolk than at the local level — have held back the organization.

Dave Zobel deserves much credit for the recent turnaround.

Formerly a volunteer member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Virginia’s corporate board, Zobel walked away from a successful Virginia Beach law practice and took a huge pay cut a year ago to lead the organization as acting executive director. In cooperation with the corporate board, Zobel made the tough decisions necessary to bring fiscal stability to the organization.

He corrected serious deficiencies in communication between the corporate office and local units like Franklin. Zobel attends our Franklin board’s monthly meeting and gives us thorough reports, including financial statements for both the local unit and the parent organization. The Norfolk office is operating transparently and effectively.

That’s critical, because the focus can return to the Boys & Girls Clubs’ core mission of serving children.

Franklin Unit Director Eric Taylor is doing a great job with programming and services, and participation is up. But he and the board need the community’s support — both monetarily and through volunteer efforts.

For the first time, this board member is comfortable asking for it.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is