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BCGA: Building Character Since 1860

Updated on October 13, 2011

In every community, children are left to their own devices, alone and at home without any adult supervision.  They end up finding their own recreation and companionship in the streets. And it has been that way a long time.

But, in 1860 three women in Hartford, Connecticut, felt children roaming the streets should have positive alternatives.  They were Mary Goodwin, Alice Goodwin and Elizabeth Hammersley.  A cause and a club were born.  Today, it is known as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

In the beginning the club was for boys only and was called the Boys Club Federation of America. The idea rapidly spread across the country and more clubs formed in response to a growing need. In 1906, several Boys Clubs decided to affiliate and the Federated Boys Clubs in Boston was formed with 53 member organizations.  It marked the start of a nationwide movement and became a national organization. And in 1931, the Boys Club Federation of America became Boys Clubs of America. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1956 at which time they also received a U.S. Congressional Charter.

As decades passed it became apparent girls were equally as needy as their male counterparts.  So, in 1990 the organization officially became the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Congress amended and renewed their charter.

One of the key ingredients and a cornerstone to the clubs’ success has been developing character since the first Club opened in 1860. Their motto is: "To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens."

The first Club professional, John Collins, developed an informal approach of guidance which attracted male youths by sparking their interests.  Once Collins had their attention he was effectively able to improve their behavior and increase their personal expectations, self esteem and goals.

The approach Collins used to get wayward youths off the streets was not a program haphazardly thrown together. It was a clearly planned, socially scientific system which promoted successful, productive futures. This system formed the basis of the BGCA environment and is still in use today.

BGCA offers a variety of safe and fun programs such as arts, sports, career exploration and leadership skills…all while having fun!  There are also camping and outdoor adventure programs during holidays and summer vacations. The clubs are open every day after school and on weekends, operated by full-time youth development professionals assisted by community volunteers.

However, BGCA offers much more than that. Their programs and services promote and enhance the development of their charges by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence.

BGCA’s Youth of the Year began in 1947 and is the highest honor a Club member can achieve. The program celebrates youth who have overcome enormous odds and demonstrated exceptional character and accomplishments. Beginning in the Club and continuing through the state, regional and national levels, BGCA youth are honored annually for their efforts in making their Clubs and communities more positive places. Regional winners receive $22,000 in college scholarships from founding sponsor Readers Digest Foundation and Tupperware Brands Corp. The national winner receives an additional $15,000 scholarship from Readers Digest Foundation and up to $50,000 from The Rick and Susan Goings Foundation.

The Youth of the Year becomes a representative and spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. The National Youth of the Year travels cross country addressing various groups on youth issues and explaining the mission of BGCA. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has ranked BGCA number one among youth organizations for over 17 consecutive years. They are also the official charity of Major League Baseball. Actor Denzel Washington, a former Club member, has been the official spokesperson for the organization since 1993.

In 2009, the BGCA became more important than ever due to an unprecedented economic crisis. Clubs provided a safety net for millions of children and their families across the nation. BGCA sponsored feeding and nutrition programs, educational initiatives and continued their character-building endeavors to prepare the next generation for success.

Through their efforts over 4.2 million young people have been served through membership and community outreach. BGCA have more than 4,000 chartered Club locations and 51,000 trained professional staff. Clubs can be found in all fifty states as well as locations in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and US Military Bases.

The organization and its predecessors have been eliminating juvenile delinquency since their founding. Some notable alumni include entertainers such as Bill Cosby, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Neil Diamond, and Denzel Washington; athletes Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez; as well as former President Bill Clinton.

As of 2010, BGCA member statistics were as follows:

·         65% were from minority families

·         5% were 5 years old and under

·         43% were 6–10 years old

·         19% were 11–12 years old

·         21% were 13–15 years old

·         12% were 16–18 years old

·         55% were male

·         45% were female.

 BGCA is a non-profit, tax-exempt program partially funded by the federal government.  If you would like to know more about BGCA, visit their website at:   


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