A Vision for Growth

New Funding, New Ideas Mean More Impact

By Tom Leyde

Underserved youth in Southern Arizona will continue to have more opportunities to grow and prosper through the long-term vision of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson. 

The organization, which is celebrating its 65th year, has plans to add several more clubhouses, acquiring more federal and state grants and adding programs, including a technology learning and workforce readiness center. CEO Denise Watters attributes the continued success and growth in large part to her staff.

“At the Club level, our staff play a pivotal role in providing mentorship, guidance and a positive environment fostering the personal and academic development of the youth we serve,” said Watters. “On the admin side, our strategic planning and support through federal, state and private grants ensure the effective implementation of programs, contributing to the organization’s overarching mission to empower young individuals.”

National partnerships through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America supports club operations which helps take the pressure off local fundraising, Watters said.

“We have gotten some good help from larger, national partners,” she said, citing NASCAR, Panda Express, TacoBocci, UPS, Cox, Comcast and New York Life. “We are getting some great national attention working with teens for workforce readiness.”

Watters said the clubs are looking to partner with Pima Community College so teens can earn college credits during their junior and senior years in high school which will help them easily enter work certificate programs the college offers.

“Hopefully, with partnerships at each center, those students will be able to accomplish some base level skills that can transfer to certificates and programs at the college, and they can move on to jobs,” said Marcy Euler, president & CEO of the Pima Foundation.

“We have really opened kids’ eyes because of the mentoring and leadership and passion that is in the clubhouses,” Watters added. “We want to help kids realize their dreams.”

Work is continuing on making the Holmes Tuttle Clubhouse on 36th Street a teen tech and workforce readiness center. It’s expected to be completed by fall 2024, Watters said.

The organization also is working with corporations on programs that will help prepare club kids for jobs and getting staff on board for the readiness center.

Watters said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson has worked with law enforcement and the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona to determine where the next four future clubhouses should be established. One will be in the Amphitheater and Flowing Wells area, and is expected to be operational in about three years.

“Thanks to our partnership with local law enforcement, we know there are roughly 40,000 kids in Tucson who fall within the 7-17 age range that we still haven’t reached,” Watters said. “Our six clubhouse locations are situated in some of the more dangerous communities in our city, but we’re also talking to Tucson Unified School District about opening in schools that are vacant, which includes the possibility of a club on the east side.

“The needs of our youth keep growing so we are always looking for new donors, partners, and fundraising opportunities to make sure the needs of our youth are met year after year.”

TUSD also is stepping up to help the clubs. Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo has pledged $30,000 in auxiliary funds to pay the annual club dues of district students who attend clubhouses and can’t afford the fee. The dues are $20 per school year. Even though there’s a fee to join the clubs, no one is turned away.

“I see a future of expansion under CEO Watters,” Trujillo said. “Having clubhouses focus more on digital literacy and workforce preparedness, I think, is a visionary strategy on the part of Ms. Watters.”

The Tucson clubs’ anniversary has caught the attention of Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“We’re excited to participate in the celebration of the 65th anniversary of Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson,” Clark said. “The clubs are an anchor in every community that we serve.”

This year, Boys & Girls Clubs of America opened its 5,000th club in Elgin, Ill.

“For many young people, this is their home away from home and a home for some,” Clark said. “When kids have an experience in Boys & Girls Clubs, they get more physical education and good things happen. They’re more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go on to college.”

“The bottom line is clubs in area neighborhoods do whatever it takes to help kids have a great future,” Clark said. “We work to do whatever it takes to do what every kid needs.”

The future for Boys & Girls Clubs, Clark said, is bright thanks to their programs and the caring adults that work with kids.

Todd Bisbocci, owner of TacoBocci, which operates local Taco Bells, has been a board member for seven years and is a Boys & Girls Clubs alum. He said it’s impossible to overstate the impact clubs have had on Tucson youth.

“The Boys & Girls Clubs have been an integral part of my life and are a big part of the person I am today,” he said. “The youth we serve are future leaders and the hope is that our work changes the lives of kids who need us most.”

Pictured above – Denise Watters, CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, pictured with Club Kids at the Frank & Edith Morton Clubhouse. Photo by Brent G. Mathis


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