There seems to be an elevated level of excitement these days amid top executives and other stakeholders of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan (B&GCSM). Yet, such fervor is understandable, as the storied organization prepares to observe its 90th anniversary with a celebratory and fundraising event on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the Detroit Athletic Club, 241 Madison Ave. in downtown Detroit.
Touted as the “Great Futures Gala,” the event begins with a reception at 6:00 p.m., followed by dinner and a special program at 7:00 p.m. B&GCSM will also honor UAW-Ford vice president, James “Jimmy” Settles Jr. on this night as its 2016 “Great Futures Honoree.” B&GCSM calls Settles, “one of the community’s greatest champions for children.”
“Jimmy has been a great and longtime friend to communities throughout Detroit, and around the state and nation,” said Len Krichko, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan. “He is one of our alums, who grew up in Detroit and has talked a lot about what the club has done for him. He continues to do great things to help the children of B&GCSM through the UAW, and on a personal level. We couldn’t think of a better person to honor than Jimmy, because he really knows what the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan is all about.”
Settles is humbled to be recognized, and understands the magnitude of the organization’s forthcoming milestone event.
“It means a lot to be honored by an organization that has had such a great impact on my life as a kid,” Settles said. ”Hopefully, I’m able to help raise more money so these clubs will continue to grow and continue to give young people the same resources and opportunities I had as a club member. This organization has blessed me, and I just want to bless it back by finding ways to empower its young boys and girls.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan roots date to 1926, when it opened its doors in Detroit. Originally called the Boys Club, its first site was on the third floor of an old tobacco processing building, located on Michigan Ave. at 35th.
In its first year, according to Kricko, the club served about 1,000 boys. However, as the membership continuously grew, a new location was needed, which came to fruition when the club moved to a nearby 55,000-square-foot building. The new site featured what is believed to be the first Olympic-sized swimming pool in southeast Michigan.
Ultimately, the Boys Club became known as the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Michigan, and now has served more than 300,000 youngsters (ages six to 18) since its inception. Perhaps two of the club’s must famous alums are native Detroiters, William “Smokey” Robinson of Motown Records fame, and veteran actor Courtney B. Vance.
Today, according to Hervey Jenkins, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan’s executive vice president and COO, there are a total of 10 Boys & Girls facilities in Wayne, Macomb, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties. The 10 locations, which serve around 15,000 young people annually, have four facilities in Detroit, and one in Highland Park. B&GCSM’s administrative offices are in Farmington Hills, Mich.
“In terms of programming, we focus on many key areas,” said Jenkins, who was a former club member while growing up in Detroit. “We address the arts, character and leadership development. We focus on education and career development, along with health and life skills, sports and fitness. We have outstanding after-school and summer programs. We simply offer a place where kids feel comfortable enough to spread their wings and soar.”
Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media, which publishes the Michigan Chronicle and three other historic African American newspapers, knows firsthand about B&GCSM’s value as a life shaper.
“I joined the Boys Club when I was six years old,” said Jackson, who grew up in Highland Park, Mich., attended the city’s vibrant club, and now serves on B&GCSM’s board of directors. “Other than my parents, the Boys & Girls Club has had the most impact on my life. It became a safe place to go, because I lived in a tough neighborhood and there was a lot of idle time in the streets when my parents were working. However, I really believe the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan is needed now more than ever.”
Kricko, a former member of the Boys & Girls Club in Pennsylvania, agrees with Jackson’s assessment of B&GCSM being a safe haven for youth. Therefore, Kricko said he’s focused on raising needed money that will help support annual programs and events at the 10 Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan.
“It’s important that people understand that we are committed to today’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders,” said Kricko, who has served as B&GCSM’s top executive for 19 years. “But, we can’t do it by ourselves. Each year we are committed to raising money from scratch to help kids. We are so thankful to all of our alumni, all of our supporters, and everybody else who has helped us through the years. However, we need more help to do bigger and better things for our kids.”
For more information on B&GCSM’s 90th anniversary event, purchasing tickets for the event, and/or becoming a sponsor or supporter, call Carmen Gillespie at 248.522.4412, or log on to www.bgcsm.org.