Working Boards Make the Clubs Run

Prominent Community Members Commit to the Kids

By Tom Leyde

At 65, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson is at an age when people look to retire. That’s nowhere in the plans for the nonprofit organization. It’s moving quickly into the future.

Making that forward motion happen is the job of the board of directors, which includes some 60 members. The board is composed of three parts: the day-to-day working board, the senior board and the emeritus board.

“It’s a big number for the board that’s for sure,” said Denise Watters, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson.

Each of the three parts plays an important role in serving Tucson-area youth, ages 7 to 17. The board oversees the operation of six clubhouses.

“The board has depth of experience,” said Board President Mitch Sigsworth. “There are a lot of people. It’s amazing how generous people are.”

Sigsworth came to Tucson from San Diego in 2015 to run Cox Media. Cox Media, he said, is a national sponsor of Boys & Girls Clubs. It has donated all the technology to the clubs so they have high-speed internet. The company asked Sigsworth to fill a spot on the Tucson board.

“I saw its value − to help young people,” Sigsworth said.

The board meets monthly and has mixers every quarter. It hosts a number of events each year including the Cholla Foundation Golf Tournament, Swing for the Kids, the Lute & Kelly Olson Party with a Purpose and its largest event, the Youth of the Year awards banquet held each June at Casino del Sol.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson is constantly recruiting new members. A potential member is sponsored by a current member, and the potential members are approved by the board.

“We try to fill specific (board) needs with representatives from different industries and community partners,” said Joe Gulotta, a retired assistant Tucson Fire chief and president-elect of the board.

For instance, the Tucson police chief serves on the board, as does the Pima County sheriff. There also are representatives from the University of Arizona and Tucson Electric Power.

“We’re working very hard to have a diverse board that has the time and talent to support the mission,” Gulotta said.

Governance and fundraising are the main board focuses, said board member Tom Robertson. Robertson retired in Tucson in 1991 after serving 20 years in the Air Force and attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.

“Historically, we try to have engaged and interesting and influential people on the board,” Robertson said.

His wife Cindy became a board member in 1992. Robertson joined the board in 2008 and is a past president.

In 2010, Cindy started Heartworks, an art program for Boys & Girls Clubs members. “It’s really fantastic and unique,” Robertson said. In 2020, she received an award from the clubs for her efforts.

Susan Gray, president & CEO of UNS Energy Corp. the parent of Tucson Electric Power, became a board member and remains involved because it affords kids opportunities and experiences that were more available to her as a youth than they are to kids at the clubs.

“I lived a life in which there were no limits to what I thought I   could achieve. We know not every child has that experience,” Gray said.

“The Clubs help position young people to accomplish great things by inspiring a vision of what’s possible whether that’s going to college or learning a skilled trade. We want them to see the potential that exists and then provide the confidence and support to help them get there.”

A good board requires good team members. No one knows that more than Joan Bonvincini, a retired women’s basketball coach at the University of Arizona, Long Beach State and Seattle University. She has been a board member for 17 years and currently serves as the board secretary.

“You need good players,” Bonvicini said. “It’s about getting good people and it’s the same thing on the board.

“Our board people are of high character and people who believe in the mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs and are utilizing their talents,” Bonvicini said.

Bonvicini was a Boys & Girls Clubs member growing up in Connecticut. She learned to swim at the clubs and attended summer camp.

This year marks Jana Westerbeke’s 20th year as a board member. She is the co-owner of Gadabout Salon Spas in Tucson with her husband Frank. Her mother Pamela McNair Wingate, Gadabout’s founder, inspired her to connect with the Boys & Girls Clubs.

“She always loved the Boys & Girls Clubs because it works to create the next generation of leaders,” Westerbeke said. “I love every minute of it.”

Five years ago, Westerbeke and her mother received the Click for Kids Award, the highest award of thanks the group bestows on individuals or businesses annually. Westerbeke thinks the present board remains solid and is doing well.

“Today, I think we’re in a really good place with Denise (Watters),” she said. “She really walks the talk.”

Watters was named CEO in 2022 after serving as interim CEO in 2021. Originally from Washington, D.C., Watters moved to Tucson in 2018. 

She has a background in organizational leadership, strategic planning, growth strategy and philanthropy. She has been an executive at national and international companies, including a Fortune 50 company, a law firm, a public relations firm, a financial consulting firm and small, medium and large government contractors.

“The board was very focused during COVID on keeping the clubs open and available, a testament to the hard work and dedication of our former CEO, Debbie Wagner,” Watters said, noting its importance to continue the impact the clubs have on community youth.

Clubs were open a full day during the pandemic because Banner Health wanted a place for children of first responders and essential workers to go. 

As for new board members, Watters said, “We look for prominent people committed to the mission and who know how to fundraise. I’m always looking for people and meeting (potential) members. I think we are always recruiting,” she said.

Pictured above from left – Julie Trujillo, Director of Clubhouse Operations; Jose Quijada, Director of Facilities; Tola Barker, Human Resource Business Partner; Denise Watters, Chief Executive Officer, Adam Begody,Chief Development & Marketing Officer; Kids from left –  Ezra (red shirt, smiling); Micah (purple shirt w/ glasses); Treyce (red shirt , no smile); Jai (blue shirt glasses); Liam (grey shirt blue jeans); Abel (eyes closed); Michael


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