Why I Joined the Bridge Board

I’m not usually one to quote movies, but there’s a line in The Blind Side that so accurately captures why I felt so drawn to the Boys & Girls Club. Sandra Bullock’s character, Leigh Ann, is having lunch with girlfriends, describing the experience of her family taking in football player Michael Orr. Her friend suggests “You’re changing that boy’s life.” And she simply replies, “No, he’s changing mine.”

My first experience with the Boys & Girls Club was about a year ago. Until then, I had always admired it from afar. I appreciated what the organization did for kids in the community, helping be that support system, mentor, counselor…whatever they may need. So, when I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon volunteering at one of the clubs through my employer’s annual volunteer day, I jumped right on it. And after that one day of volunteering, I knew I had to keep coming back and give as much to the organization as I could.

I’ve always been drawn to any experience or organization that helps kids. As a mother of two, I strongly believe that it’s our duty as adults to help shape their future. To help make sure they don’t completely lose their innocence and belief the good in the world. And, to help them live to their full potential. To watch kids – my own or others – experience joy from such simple things is pure happiness. And on the flipside, it pains me to know that some kids are forced to grow up way too fast, missing out on that innocence and joy.

I was fortunate to grow up in a very traditional family unit, with a support system that spanned beyond just my parents. And now that I’m a parent, I will do whatever it takes to provide for my own children. Yet, in a world where providing a great life for them comes so easily, I still allow myself to get caught up in the ridiculous societal pressures that come with being a parent.

Being a parent isn’t just a role in life, it’s a competition. It’s too often about who feeds their kids the most organic food or allows the least amount of screen time. And because of that, it’s easy to forget what’s truly important. Luckily, my first visit to a club very quickly reminded me. Spending that afternoon with the kids at the club – and every other afternoon and evening since, has kept me focused and grounded. It’s not material things that make a kid grow up to be great. It’s making a connection, preserving their innocence and goodness, and helping them be kind. It’s providing them moments of joy so that they stay on a positive path as they grow older.

I hope that over time, these little moments add up to a meaningful impact in the lives of the kids I meet.

I can already say that they’ve done the same for me.


By Krystina Thomas, Marketing Committee Member


Giving (and Getting) on the Bridge Board

Hi! My name is Erin McBride, and I have been a Bridge Board member for about two years.

I am a huge proponent of education, which I believe plays a role in building strong communities.  The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland provide a safe place for kids to go after school, as well as offering a number of activities and homework help. It makes it a lot easier for kids to focus on their education when they have consistent encouragement, tutoring, and an environment where they are free to express themselves through art, crafts, or even a game of pick-up basketball. I always know we are making a difference at the beginning of each Bridge Board meeting when a club member tells us how BGCC has changed his or her life.

Last year, the Bridge Board ramped up its marketing initiatives and revamped the Marketing Committee, which I chaired. We really wanted to focus on getting our name out in the community, which offered me the opportunity to make connections with young board members

from various organizations. I’m really excited to see how these relationships will develop over time, especially as we begin to co-host meet-and- greet events. Our social media presence has also started to blossom. We have so many awesome events, and social media is the perfect way to showcase what we are doing!

Serving on a Bridge Board committee also allowed me to get to know a number of individuals on our own Board. These people are hard-working, dedicated, creative, and so fun to be around. I always look forward to seeing them, and I admire their work/life/volunteer balance. Although the Bridge Board members themselves are awesome, they’ve got nothing on the kids we get to hang out with at the Clubs. My all-time favorite event is pumpkin decorating in the fall. I love seeing how excited the kids get to decorate pumpkins, and I have also never seen so much glitter in my entire life. It is so fun to share that experience with them.

I would always encourage anyone who has an interest in The Bridge Board to come to a volunteer event – there is no better way to meet people (kids and volunteers alike!) I feel so strongly about this Board and its members, and I know this is an organization that I will continue to support for a long time.

Spring Forward, Give Back

By Emily Wallace, Volunteer Chair, Cleveland Boys & Girls Club Bridge Board

Cleveland has an impressive resume when it comes to YoPro volunteer organizations. As a city, we have a lot to brag about, IMHO. At the Bridge Board our volunteer initiatives are all focused on work within the Boys & Girls Clubs specifically, which gives us the unique opportunity to build volunteer programming targeted at childhood development year after year. We’ve come a long way from our Founders who simply loved to stop in and hang out with the kids (which really, is still the best part). Today, the Bridge Board Volunteer Committee’s planned programs are focused around three themes: Creativity, Community Service, and College Readiness.


Our focus on Creativity is rooted in a number of arts and crafts activities for the younger kids, as well as our SPEAK Series at the St. Luke’s club. Our arts and crafts activities include one fan favorite – Pumpkin Decorating – where kids use stickers, glue, and glitter to create a one-of-a-kind Halloween Pumpkin to take home to their families. At SPEAK, preteens are introduced to the art of theater, and taught a number of skills essential to both theater and public speaking. These events help give kids the skills, knowledge, and voice to be successful in their chosen career paths. We team up with Dominique Paramore, a formally trained actress, to provide the SPEAK Series every Spring.

Community Service

The goal of our Community Service events is to create productive, responsible and caring members of society in the club kids. These events consist of public garden clean-ups and writing cards for local nursing homes or veteran organizations. Through these events, we attempt to teach them the value in taking care of the cities in which they live. We also show them the value of helping others within their community with only a little extra time and energy.

College Readiness

Finally, to assist any club kids pursuing formal education after High School, we created the College Guidance and Scholarship programs to ensure College Readiness. College Guidance is a program in which our volunteers meet with club kids one-on-one to fill out college applications, scholarship applications, and tour local schools. In addition to the College Guidance program, we also host a Scholarship Competition in which we’ve been able to provide teens with Bridge Board raised scholarship funds over the last two years. That’s where our Fundraising Committee comes in.

Fill out a form on the “Join” page to learn more about our ongoing Volunteer Initiatives or email me directly for partnership opporunities at emilylouisewallace@gmail.com.

Celebrating Our Youth of the Year: They’ve Lived a Lifetime Before Graduating from High School

Every year, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland hosts its annual Youth of the Year Breakfast.  At this event, volunteers, corporate partners, BGCC employees, and parents of BGCC are recognized for their efforts, dedication, devotion, and hard work.  But, the most important of these awards are for the Youth of the Year.  Cleveland Indians award college scholarships to three graduating high school seniors who have been members of the BGCC–$2,000, $3,000, and $5,000.  The students’ application process and road to the Youth of the Year includes their scholastic accomplishments, written essays and speeches on what they want to be and why, and sharing their stories.
The stories always get me.  The things these kids have seen, lived, experienced, and overcome in their short lives are nothing short of daunting, heartbreaking, and in some cases, tragic.  It gives me chills as I sit here writing this.  Immigration, learning English, living in temporary housing, moving often, being separated from parents, drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, gang violence, gun violence, poverty–any one of these things would be enough for most people to throw in the towel and just give up.  But these kids don’t.  They strive and persevere and work hard and support each other and they come through it all with dreams, hopes, love, and smiles.  It’s truly incredible and inspiring.

And the Boys and Girls Clubs–and the incredible staff–help get them through it all.  With love, support, homework help, career counseling, warm meals, and just a safe, fun place for students to be with friends and people who care about them, in addition to field trips, arts and scholastic programming, career training, opportunities and scholarships.

If anything the Bridge Board has done over the past eight years has helped Zayllianny graduate and plan to go to college to study social work, Sam make the honor roll and varsity football team, Tamia achieve a 3.5 GPA and tutor younger Club members with homework, Aaron get accepted to Central State University where he plans to student mechanical engineering, Elijah pursue his dreams of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon, or Jasmine achieve her goal of obtaining a degree in early childhood education and opening her own daycare, then all of our efforts have been worth it, because these kids are amazing.

If you ever have an opportunity to attend this event, clear your calendar, make any arrangements you need to, and go hear these incredible young people speak.

2016 Youth of the Year Candidates:

2016 Youth of the Year winner: Zayllianny Mojica. She is a senior at Lincoln West High School and a member of our Lincoln West club. She is 17 years old and has been involved with the Club since the 7th grade (12 years old). Zayllianny is involved in the Capstone program, in which she reads to children and thereby helps them develop reading skills. She will be attending Cleveland State University in the fall and majoring in social work.

Other Youth of the Year Candidates:

Samuel McKnight, an honor roll student and varsity football player at Cleveland Heights High School. Samuel has also volunteered at a local nursing home and at the Cleveland Foodbank. He is an excellent role model for others. Samuel is currently working as a junior staff member at our Charles Dickens site.

Tamia Jones has been a member of Broadway Club of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland since 2011. She attends Cleveland School of the Arts. Tamia is works as junior staff member and is currently the vice president of the Keystone Club. Tamia is a high school senior and maintains a 3.5 GPA. Tamia enjoys spending time in the education library, where she engages younger club members through homework help, reading and dance. She is a highly intelligent, perceptive young woman.

Aaron Hemphill is a member of our Heights Youth Club and a senior at Cleveland Heights High School. He has been a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland since the age of 7. During those many years, Aaron has participated in Passport to Manhood, Torch Club, Diplomas 2 Degrees and, most recently, the Keystone Club. Aaron is serving as the 2016 Keystone Tigers Club President and will be attending the National Keystone Conference in Dallas, Texas. One of Aaron best memories of the Club was his television news interview at the age of 11. He enjoys math, playing basketball and food. Aaron’s plans include attending Central State University in the fall, where he will pursue a degree mechanical engineering.

Elijah Colvin attends The Cleveland School of Science And Medicine at the John Hay High School campus. He is a member of our King Kennedy Club. After high school, he plans to start college and pursue a career in medicine. His dream occupation is to be a cardiovascular surgeon. Growing up, he always considered himself to be nothing less than a leader. Elijah says he “loves to help people and strengthen their weaknesses to succeed in life.” Elijah’s role model is Dr. Ben Carson. Once Elijah receives his professional degree, he plans on being a big donor to the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Jasmine Berry is a senior at Shaw High School and a member of our East Cleveland Club. She is an early childhood education major at Shaw and hopes to one day become a daycare owner. She will be graduating high school with her CDA license. Jasmine has been with the Club for two and a half years, starting at the Cleveland Heights location and later coming to the East Cleveland site once it opened. Jasmine is also very interested in becoming a beautician; she spends her free time brushing up on her beauty skills. Along with being a promising beautician, she is a talented musician and has played the saxophone since fourth grade.

Finding the Bridge Board

By: Sara Millington, Bridge Board Member and Volunteer Committee Member

Research Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Moving to Cleveland a few years ago from Texas I was looking for a way to meet other young professionals and get involved with the Cleveland community. Moving to a northern “rust belt” city I was extremely apprehensive. Having lived in the south my whole life my expectations were mostly shaped by others’ view of Cleveland, which were not always positive. Once I moved to Cleveland I was extremely impressed with this city and its small town vibe— and while there is a large disparity between neighborhoods, I saw that as an opportunity for neighbors to help one another.

While there are many great young professional groups in Cleveland, the Bridge Board really impressed me by the commitment that everyone has for helping the community. Every single member of the Bridge Board comes to our meetings and fundraisers with the purpose of improving our events and providing new opportunities to the kids at the Clubs. The diversity of the occupations and skills represented in the Bridge Board young professional group helps to bring different perspectives on how to improve the Board and its events.

One thing that I really enjoy about working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland is the impact we are able to have on the children’s experience at the Clubs.  The Bridge Board plans fundraisers for the clubs but it also plans programs at the Clubs with the kids and the community. Last August the Clubs hosted a back to school supplies drive— a community event to hand out supplies that included not only the kids that attended the Clubs, but their parents and neighbors. The event including the whole family helped excite the kids about school starting and also highlight that the whole community is involved in the success of the kids. Outside of events and meetings held by the Bridge Board, you are able to volunteer at the Clubs after school, which is another way to interact directly with the kids and make a direct impact on their lives.

Whether you are new to Cleveland or just looking for a way to get involved in the community and meet young professionals in the area, reach out to the Bridge Board. I know every single one of our members would love to speak more about out work and the opportunities we have to get involved.

Why I LOVE The Bridge Board

By Allison Taller Reich, Chair, Cleveland Boys & Girls Club Bridge Board

February is the month of cupid, valentines, flowers, and….LOVE!  So it only seemed appropriate to share some reasons that I LOVE the Bridge Board.

I LOVE that the Bridge Board has developed its own volunteer events, networking events, fundraising events, board structure, scholarship program, Career Series, and College Guidance Program.  Over eight years, the Bridge Board grew from a handful of young people wanting to help and fill a need to an organization making $50,000 campaign pledges to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, giving out $12,000 annually in college scholarships, planning and hosting two annual fundraising events, planning events and volunteering in every Club location, developing a marketing strategy, mentoring students, and continuing to grow.

I LOVE our volunteer events and just being with the kids in the Clubs.  The kids get so excited for our long-standing annual pumpkin decorating events and cover their pumpkins in as much glitter, paint, glue, stickers, and other fun things, but they mostly enjoy the help, attention, and mentoring from our Bridge Board members.  Our College Guidance Committee is helping prepare and mentor students interested in going to college with school skills and life skills.  Our Career Series helps prepare all students for life after the Clubs. The students and our Bridge Board members both really light up when they’re spending time with each other.

I LOVE our kids.  They are great, strong, smart, caring kids with big hearts and open minds.

I LOVE our Bridge Board members and all the tireless hours they spend planning, supporting, and attending events for the kids and Clubs and giving the Bridge Board, kids, and Clubs their all, even if that means late nights, early mornings, weekends, and time away from their own families and careers.

I LOVE the BGCC Staff and their never-ending kindness, love, and support they give the kids every day.

I LOVE to think about all our new events and initiatives that we have planned for this year.  I’m excited for our New Teen Programming Initiatives and potentially starting a robotics program or team.

I LOVE the feeling I have when I return from an event with the BGCC students and staff–it certainly brightens my day!

Finally… I LOVE attending the Youth of the Year Breakfast, which is coming up on March 11th at the Broadway Boys and Girls Club!  Please join us to learn more about our clubs and our kids at 7:30am!

What’s your story?

Hello There! We’ve had a lot of folks ask us who we are and what we’re about recently, so we decided to add to our About bio with this post.

The Bridge Board was initially created to be a “bridge” in communication and volunteer efforts between the BGCC (BGCC =Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland) Board of Directors and the individual Club Directors. Our founders were already avid volunteers in the clubs, and recognized that they could turn a void into an opportunity. Simple, right? Well, what we evolved into was a full-fledged young professionals board interested in furthering the Boys & Girls Clubs cause among our Gen X and Millennial peers. We still bridge the gap between the “Big” Board and the Clubs, but now have several of our own independent initiatives as well. We’ll tell you more about those in subsequent posts (spoiler – they’re awesome!)

The Bridge Board is unique in that we were born solely out of need within an already thriving volunteer community. We love this fact, and we really love working with all of the great kids and staff at BGCC.