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For the children

Local Boys & Girls Clubs ramp up money-raising efforts as funding drops and members request more financial aid

Brooke Bohn, 9, of Hudson, tries a fancy shot at her local Boys & Girls Club of MetroWest, which is seeing enrollment rise even as its funding falls. Brooke Bohn, 9, of Hudson, tries a fancy shot at her local Boys & Girls Club of MetroWest, which is seeing enrollment rise even as its funding falls. ( Ellen Harasimowicz for The Boston Globe)
By James O’Brien
Globe Correspondent / September 10, 2009

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Until the recession hit, Newton resident Angela Cedrone raised her three children at home while her husband, a real estate agent, worked days. Child care was built in, by dint of her being at home most mornings and afternoons. Then, the real estate market collapsed.

Cedrone started taking afternoon shifts at a local bank last November to help make ends meet. And when summer arrived, she needed to figure out what to do about child care for her youngest daughter - ready to enter the first grade, but not necessarily ready to stay at home with two teenagers.

So, for the first time, Cedrone enrolled her 6-year-old in a summer camp. She chose the John M. Barry Boys & Girls Club of Newton. In another first, she asked for financial aid from the nonprofit organization.

“We’ve never really had to depend on financial support,’’ Cedrone said of the scholarship she took to help pay the camp’s $190 weekly fee. “You don’t want to ask.’’

Cedrone is not alone. As the recession wears on, from Newton to Marlborough, from Hudson to Waltham, local branches of the Boys & Girls Club organization face a double-edged sword. State and federal funding is dwindling while demand for its services - as well as the scholarships to pay for them - is on the rise.

“The challenge is to continue serving as many kids as we can,’’ said Fran Hurley, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of MetroWest, which runs facilities in Marlborough, Hudson, and Framingham.

That mission statement stands, even as the club recently closed a facility that served residents of the Countryside Village apartment complex in Marlborough. MetroWest has moved those members to its Pleasant Street headquarters.

And that’s not the extent of recent changes. Given cuts in state aid this fiscal year, amounting to about $85,000 - plus approximately $150,000 in federal cuts - the club was forced to freeze employees’ salaries. Staff vacancies will not be filled, and staff members will be dividing their time between facilities in MetroWest’s three communities more frequently.

Demand, however, for after-school programs - covered by a $25 annual fee - increased from 525 young people last year to 600 so far this year. And scholarship requests for MetroWest’s $170-per-week summer camp program, which serves around 300 campers per season, climbed from $50,000 last year to $60,000 this summer.

“The club will have to continue to do more with less,’’ said Hurley. “It’s been a very challenging environment and continues to be.’’

Jennifer Ann Aldworth, executive director at the Waltham Boys & Girls Club, said a recent count put its general membership at 1,057, up 20.5 percent from last year.

If it’s any kind of measure of what finances look like for some Waltham families, Aldworth said, one third of the organization’s membership pays the $15 per child annual fee, while the rest request financial aid.

Meanwhile, Waltham’s summer camp - spread among multiple locations - served 329 kids per day, on average, this summer, up from 298 a year ago. Attending the camp costs $195 per week, and the club gave out $23,000 in scholarships, double the amount last year.

About 30 percent of the Waltham club’s budget comes from the state. Aldworth estimates her organization will take about $70,000 in cuts for the fiscal year that started July 1. While the Waltham club was in the black last year, Aldworth said, she now faces a $75,000 deficit, prompting her to freeze wages and halt hiring.

“There’s nowhere else to cut,’’ said Aldworth. “We’re looking at an increase in average daily attendance without the ability to financially reward our staff, or hire new staff to cope with the size of the group.’’

The shift in attendance and scholarship requests proved less dramatic in Newton, but the impact of budget reductions resulted in similar cutbacks.

Like Cedrone, 51 percent of the 124 summer campers at Newton’s Barry Boys & Girls Club asked for financial aid. About the same number of campers needed scholarships last year, when 39 percent of the 160 enrollees requested help, but this year’s scholarship awards represent a greater percentage of the program’s potential revenue, officials said.

Newton’s after-school program costs $125 per year (an expanded program costs $175). The club served 752 members during the school year that ended in June, fielding 166 scholarship requests, up slightly from the year before.

David Sellers Jr., executive director of the Barry organization, said he expects attendance to hold steady this fall, but emphasized that state cuts already created a budget gap of approximately $40,000 this fiscal year.

The Newton clubhouse responded by holding three major events to raise revenue - a boxing match, a comedy night, and a family festival.

“What our club did was go back to what we do best,’’ said Sellers, “which is add events. But it was a break-even year at great effort. A lot of belt-tightening and holding back on things we would have done in previous years.’’

Newton clubhouse administrators have “let go of increases’’ this year, Sellers said, while program staff received “a modest, 3 percent’’ raise. Vacated positions were left unfilled.

In light of the recent economic downturn, all three Boys & Girls Club administrators said their organizations are making changes to fund-raising.

The MetroWest club has been primarily supported by foundations. Establishing new relationships with foundations has slowed to a trickle, said Hurley, so the club is turning increasingly to corporate partnerships. The organization found one recently, winning support from biotechnology company Genzyme, which operates a facility in Framingham.

Waltham is restrategizing, too. Without a budget for development staff, and some foundations indicating this could be their last year for giving, Aldworth said, the club is “in the mode of strategizing about individual giving, that’s where I see us concentrating most of our efforts.’’

And for Sellers, keeping the Newton clubhouse viable, in light of the difficulty of fund-raising during the recession, means shifting from holding events to encouraging long-term relationships.

“We’re transitioning to a charitable giving model,’’ said Sellers. “Sometimes we have a reputation in Newton of nickel-and-diming after people every five minutes for something. Instead, we’re going to start asking for meaningful gifts one or two times per year.’’