When Gerald Szostak was 21, he took a summer job coaching baseball at a youth sports camp on the East Coast. The experience transformed his life. “When I returned home, I changed my entire career path,” said Szostak, who had just completed his junior year at Arizona State University. Szostak was planning to go into law enforcement prior to that particular summer, which ignited an inextinguishable passion. Szostak switched majors from Criminal Justice to Recreation and Tourism. This new path ultimately landed him in Prescott 16 years later, as the executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona (BGCCA).
Szostak’s former employer, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix, relocated him in April 2014 to Prescott and tasked him with the reboot of BGCCA. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona had been closed for two months and was scheduled to reopen its doors in May 2014. The day the Prescott Clubhouse reopened, one child showed up. “We were hoping for anyone.” Szostak said. “We were excited when that one kid showed up! I said to everyone, ‘Hey, that’s a start!’” For the month of May, no new children joined the club, but that didn’t deter Szostak from his mission to revive this organization.
“There were days when no children were at the club but the staff stayed busy. They spent time recruiting at the parks and the libraries, and received extensive training.” said Szostak.
The backbone of the Boys & Girls Clubs is a well-trained staff. It is what sets the organization apart from other after-school programs and summer options. It offers core programs such as: Career Launch, Healthy Habits and Project Learn. To successfully implement and grow these programs, the clubs rely on a committed and well-trained staff.
Today, the Prescott Clubhouse is now serving an average of 80 kids per day during the school year and 85 during the summer. The Prescott Valley Clubhouse, which was serving an average of 35 kids per day during the school year and 55 per day during the summer, now serves 100 kids per day.
The club recently opened a multimedia center at Prescott High School. In September 2017, it will open a program at Glassford Hill Middle School in Prescott Valley. In October 2017, the club will open a teen center in Chino Valley.
“We want to be able to serve more kids,” Szostak said. “We have been able to offer programs for all ages of kids and we want to continue to be on the lookout program-wise for what is next for kids. We’re always trying to adapt to what kids need. We can always adapt our programs. That’s the beauty of the Boys & Girls Clubs.”
Not only is the club able to offer something to every child, but it is able to do so affordably.
“We don’t turn a kid away for financial reasons,” Szostak said. “We’re able to work with families, foster parents and shelters. The club allows parents to work. They don’t have to worry about whether they should work or stay home.”
Because the Boys & Girls Clubs do not turn anyone away for financial reasons, fundraising is vital to the organization’s growth and sustainability. Szostak understands that. He has assembled a staff and helped build a board of directors focused on building relationships and hosting events that will allow the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona to continue to be a leader in impacting the lives of children throughout the Quad Cities.
In just three years, the board of directors has grown from two members, Joe Baynes and Linda Thein, to 15 board members. In addition, the club employs two experienced staff members, Kristen Kerns and Nicole Kennedy, to focus on development.
“Honestly, it’s about hiring the right people,” Szostak said. “Nicole, who oversees the development department, has great experience in large markets and Kristen is trained in writing grants and has years of experience in event planning.”
According to a national study conducted by the University of Michigan, “every dollar invested in the Boys & Girls Club has a return of $9 to the community,” Szostak said. “In Phoenix, every dollar invested has a return of almost $17.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona is always looking for people interested in positively impacting the lives of our community’s youth to invest their time, talent or financial resources. For more information on how you can start making an impact, visit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona online at bgccaz.org or call 928-776-8686. QCBN
By Drew Diener
Drew Diener is a local attorney and a member of the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona.