The Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri isn’t limiting its outreach to the youths who participate in its programs. Executive Director Harper Mruk knows that if you want to help a child, you often have to help their parents, as well.
“No child grows up and develops into an adult in a vacuum. They are surrounded by their circumstance,” she said. “Our goal is to create productive citizens. In order to do that, we have to give them the best environment possible. We know that we give them the best possible environment inside the Boys & Girls Clubs, and now we need to make sure outside of the Boys and Girls Clubs we are able to do that.”
To reach that goal, the local Boys & Girls Club has launched the Unmet Needs Fund, a resource to provide children and families with basic necessities. The impetus for the effort came a couple of weeks ago, when club operations staff members noticed that a child’s shoes were too small. According to a news release from the club: “The shoes had been cut along the top and at the toes to allow more room for her growing feet. When asked, the member said they were the only shoes she had.”
A donor provided proper shoes for the child, but Mruk vowed that none of the club’s members would face that kind of circumstance again. That’s when the local Unmet Needs Fund initiative was launched. Mruk, who took over the local clubs in March, said such funds are a “pet project” for Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide.
“When I first started, I was surprised that we didn’t have one and I felt that we needed one,” she said. “And that incident just kind of tipped it. … It really was a good point to be able to talk about what that looks like.”
But this effort is about much more than shoes.
“We could easily substitute how inappropriate it is for a kid to have clothes that have holes in them or don’t fit, and be able to have that feeling of, ‘All right, we fixed it.’ Because we as a community can fix that, we have the capacity,” Mruk said.
There is no financial goal for the fund, nor deadline to meet. As Mruk noted, her staff is aware of children and families who have critical needs now, so as contributions come in they will be used to meet those needs.
“Our operations staff, on a daily basis, sees unmet needs that we could easily be helping fulfill, and we just need to raise the awareness with the community to get the fund created,” she said. “The more we have contributed to this, the more we can help.”
Boys & Girls Clubs also is networking with other local social service agencies to figure out who meets specific needs best and most efficiently, then relying on them to do that job. The goal is a stronger community safety net to help residents who cannot afford some of life’s necessities. Boys & Girls Clubs staff sees these gaps on a daily basis.
“We know the families’ needs,” Mruk said. “We see them; we’ve talked to the parents. We’re engaging with them all the time, so who better to be able to say, ‘We know what you need right now, and we’re going to figure out how to get it for you.’”
Boys & Girls Clubs still needs to raise funds to cover its operational costs, and Mruk said no agency wants to “rob Peter to pay Paul” in creating a new initiative. Still, she is convinced that the club’s donors include “individuals who are passionate about leveling the playing field for kids, and this is an avenue to do that.”
Emily Jarrett, the club’s marketing and public relations director, said residents may be drawn to contribute because their donation will have a known outcome.
“This is something tangible that people can wrap their head around – ‘I’m going to help that kid have a winter coat this year.’ It’s not, ‘I’m going to give to the operations fund,’” Jarrett said.
That said, recipients will remain anonymous and assistance will be provided in the most discreet ways possible.
The club doesn’t have space to store items, so monetary donations are the best way to help. However, Mruk added that vouchers for services such as haircuts and auto repairs would be welcome. And those on limited budgets can still help create a big impact.
“This is a great fund for, ‘I can give you $20’ – a month or for the year,” Jarrett said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge contribution, because we can do a lot with that money.”
Mruk shared a story about a family who got assistance from the club she worked at in Wisconsin; the next year, the mother brought in a donation check. The mother and her husband landed jobs and they wanted to help “that next family.”
“Given an opportunity, a community takes care of itself like a family would,” she said.