Boys & Girls Clubs will benefit from grant

The national Boys & Girls Clubs of America has come under fire from a group of four Republican senators over the salaries and travel expenses of top executives.

We here in South Sound must not let the national controversy distract us from the outstanding work of the Boys & Girls Club organization, which has done an outstanding job mentoring youngsters.

In that vein, we salute Attorney General Rob McKenna, who recently announced a $101,700 grant program to help the nonprofit organization open clubs on reservations. It’s a great move.

With the terrific opportunities at the local level, and the positive effect the clubs are having on South Sound youngsters, it’s disconcerting to see such a negative light cast at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The critical U.S. senators say they are concerned that Roxanne Spillett, president of the national organization, was drawing a million-dollar salary at the time when the organization was closing clubs across the country. They also question why the club spent $4.3 million on travel, $1.6 million on conferences and a half-million dollars in lobbying fees in 2008. “The question is whether or not a very top-heavy organization might be siphoning off federal dollars that should be going to help kids,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

The Republicans have asked for detailed financial information about executive compensation, travel and lobbying expenses.

National club leaders must address this issue head-on and provide the requested information, then be prepared to defend their decisions. About $425 million in federal funds to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America over the next five years is in jeopardy, and it’s imperative that officials at the nonprofit defend the organization against the negative onslaught.

The organization has 4,300 local clubs that serve 4.8 million children. That’s where the good work is being done — one-on-one with kids who often need a little push and a helping hand to set them on the right course.

We don’t pretend to know whether Spillett’s travel expenses are all legitimate, but we can say with absolute certainty that her trip to South Sound last year was a smashing success. She spoke at the Boys & Girls Club fundraising breakfast at Saint Martin’s Pavilion. In her heart-felt speech to the packed gymnasium, Spillett said that 57 percent of club alumni say the club saved their lives.

She spelled out the mission of the Atlanta-based organizations. “Boys & Girls Clubs are playing an increasingly vital role in many young people’s lives,” Spillett said. “In today’s economic climate, we offer a positive place for kids whose parents are seeking an economical, safe and enriching environment for their children. I hope parents in every community will take time ... to see firsthand the variety and value of programs offered by their local club, including homework tutorials and career exploration.”

Boys & Girls Clubs provide after-school programs during times when kids are often unsupervised and at risk of participating in destructive behaviors, including crime and drug abuse. Clubs promote and enhance the development of children by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence.

The leaders of the local chapter have earned high marks for their outstanding work to fulfill their mission. They have stepped up to offer after-school programs when those worthwhile programs were scheduled for the budget ax. Through their mentorship and positive role modeling, they have helped turn hundreds of South Sound youngsters into productive young citizens who have goals for themselves, and hold out great hope for their future.

Boys & Girls Clubs serve more than 159,000 youngsters every year in Washington state. However, there is only one club for American Indian kids.

McKenna hopes to offer more tribal youngsters the opportunity to participate in club activities.

He’s using a $101,700 grant — from a drug company settlement — to pay for at least two years of a coordinator with the Washington Association of Boys & Girls Clubs who will help tribes work with their local Boys & Girls Club associations.

“There’s a very strong interest in not only this tribe, but with tribes around the state making sure that our kids are taken care of,” said Chehalis tribal chairman David Burnett. The Lummi, Yakama and Quinault tribes also have expressed interest in having a club on tribal land.

While the national leaders cope with their scandal, let’s not forget that the real work — the lifesaving work of the Boys & Girls Clubs — is being done right here in this community. The organization has solid local leadership and is transforming lives on a daily basis.