Story by Heather Feeler | Dec 28, 2015
Photography by Anthony Jinson
A new Boys and Girls Club located on Lincoln University campus brings hope to youth who need it most.
Ever dream a dream so big you questioned if it could become reality? This is the story of big believers who rolled up their sleeves and brought in countless others to change the lives of kids at risk. It’s a story about generosity and hope, but mainly it’s about a group who truly cares about local kids in need of extra love and support.
For many years the Boys and Girls Club of the Capital City offered after-school programming, homework support and nightly meals in the former Wallis Oil gas station located on Elm Street. Although this original building was an ideal location to serve nearby neighborhoods, the Missouri Department of Transportation had plans for an interchange to run through this structure. The buyout meant $425,000 for the Boys and Girls Club, yet a replacement building, rehabbed or new, would cost more than $2 million.
Initially, the situation was one riddled with discouragement. The old building about to be torn down, a new building needed with not enough money and an unsuccessful search for space in an appropriate location. Yet obstacles began to dissolve when Dr. Kevin Rome, president of Lincoln University, offered to build a new Boys and Girls Club on the LU campus.
“Dr. Rome received care and support from the Boys and Girls Club in Georgia when he was a kid growing up, and it greatly impacted his life,” says Stephanie Johnson, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club. “He felt this was an opportunity to pay forward. For us to be located on a college campus is huge for our kids because many of them can’t begin to envision going to college.”
With a new building now within reach, there was still the challenge of raising a large sum of money in a short amount of time. Johnson, who had been in non-profit fundraising before coming to the Boys and Girls Club in 2011, immediately recognized the momentous task at hand.
“I knew this project would take a dream team,” Johnson says. “There needed to be a balance of strategic and creative thinkers to achieve an ambitious goal of $2.2 million. The key would be to get the right minds and talents on board.”
As a woman on a mission, Johnson compiled the initial group including Jim Vossen, Dan Westhues, Donna Westhues and Hallie Gibbs. As a Boys and Girls Club board chair, Vossen was already a strong pillar on the strategic side. Dan led the charge from a business prospective. When it came to the creative side of the campaign, Donna and Gibbs were standout choices for their heart, energy, charisma and community connections. According to those on her team, Johnson’s leadership and passion for Boys and Girls Club was also a key asset for the campaign.
“Stephanie is a talented lady,” Gibbs says. “Her enthusiasm and love for the kids is phenomenal. The solid foundation she is creating for the Boys and Girls club will continue on, and this program will be an anchor in the community to better the lives of many kids for years to come.”
With initial leadership in place, the team gained momentum and eventually recruited passionate community members under various campaign divisions, such as big gifts, public campaign and grant writing. The expanded campaign team included Bernie Fechtel, Mike Kehoe, Ann Littlefield, Tami Turner, Chuck Walker, Travis Stephens and Janet Wear-Enloe.
The kickoff campaign launched in November 2014, and the team worked tirelessly to rally others in the community. Hope for kids in need was a message that resonated and many bighearted donors and volunteers wanted to find an immediate solution.
“The most memorable part for me is the generosity of our community,” says Dan Westhues. “There was not a single no. We shared the story, and everyone got on board.”
Although Donna had the tough task of asking for large gifts during the campaign, it was a small gift from a mother that struck a chord in her heart.
“Stephanie told me of a single mother who gave $5,” Donna says. “Her child attends the Boys and Girls Club, and her gift was equal to giving $500 for some people. This was all she had, but she gave it.”
It is the heart and passion of the initial leadership and many others that allowed a new state-of-the-art building to become a reality. On Nov. 18, Boys and Girls Club broke ground on the LU campus and announced that they had exceeded their goal by raising more than $2.5 million in one year. Weather permitting, construction begins in January of 2016 with doors expected to open as early as fall of this year. Extra funding will allow the basement to be finished in order to house a much needed teen center.
“This building will be there for a long time, and it will change the lives of thousands of kids—kids who need us the most,” Johnson says. “My vision is that the kids of Jefferson City will walk on campus as a child of Boys and Girls Club and walk off as a graduate of Lincoln University.”
This new structure symbolizes hope for changed lives, and it is a dream bigger than all on the team could have ever imagined.
To help the kids of Boys and Girls Club of the Capital City, visit www.bgcjc.com. Volunteer opportunities include serving on committees or working directly with kids at the club.