If you’re raising a family in the Zionsville area, one of the best local assets for helping the development of your offspring is the Boys & Girls Club of Zionsville. The club’s two locations (Club East at 1575 Mulberry St. Zionsville and Club West at 5964 South 700 East, Whitestown) offer a wide variety of programs that support its mission of helping “area youth develop the skills, fitness, and character they need to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Zionsville has been serving the community for almost a quarter century. Tim Fretz, the club’s executive director, has over 20 years of experience advancing the inspirational goals of the Boys & Girls Club of America. His dedication, along with the assistance of his staff and hundreds of volunteers, benefits thousands of children and families in Boone County every year.
To help you learn a bit more about this important organization than can be found on its website, we recently interviewed Tim Fretz at the Club East location. Below is a transcript of our conversation, along with a few photos of that spacious and colorful facility.
Interview with Tim Fretz, Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Zionsville
KZ: How did you get involved with the organization?
Tim Fretz: The Boys & Girls Clubs is a career path of mine. I was with the Boys & Girls Club of Indianapolis for 22 years before I came up to the Zionsville club. I came into the Zionsville club in 2008 as the executive director, after filling several different roles at the Indianapolis clubs.
KZ: What has been the most rewarding aspects of your tenure with the organization?
TF: The most rewarding aspects are being able to see the light bulbs come on with kids and the changes they’ve made in life. At different times in my career, kids have been on the fence about making decisions, and sometimes they’re not the best at helping themselves to start making better decisions and then ending up with a career. But, I’ve had several kids who started in a Boys & Girls Club and now they’re working in a club somewhere across the country. We obviously have a lot of good kids making good decisions; going to school when they didn’t think school was a possibility.
KZ: Can you provide examples of some of those “light bulb” stories?
TF: We have programs, like Passport to Manhood, where kids who are struggling with their own identity start talking about what it is to grow up to be a man, how do you treat women appropriately, how do you treat your friends, and those kind of issues. Then the kids go, “Oh, I understand it now,” or “It’s different from what I have at home,” or “It’s different from what I initially thought it was.” Outside of the club, a kid’s training is usually more about spying and getting group lessons from their friends and peers. But when they get training from the club, kids have opportunities to hear more stories about what’s real with experience. Lessons from peers are not really experience-driven.
KZ: The mission of The Boys & Girls Club is to help area youth develop the skills, fitness, and character they need to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens. Of the many programs offered by your organization, which do you feel are the most essential to helping meet that mission?
TF: I think there are three main components, with the first category being education. Having academic success is the #1 outcome we’re shooting for, and there are a variety of programs that do that, from the homework assistance to the tutoring one-on-one support, to the small group science club and math club, to robotics, which all fit into the educational component. With the health and lifestyles—helping kids make good choices—we have our prevention programs, our cooking programs, our nutrition programs, and our physical activity programs, which all fit into this category. The third category is group engagement. Teaching kids how to give back to the community, how to be a part of the community through community service, through doing things for others in the club and doing things for others outside the club.
KZ: Which programs have the most participation and which are under-utilized?
TF: It’s a challenge to put the answer into words, because we have about 330 kids every day after school, between our two facilities, which is maxing out our West facility. We have a little room for growth at this East facility. We actually have portable classrooms at the West facility that can expand outside the current structure. The kids get to choose the individual programs where they go, so when they come in it’s not like there is a set class—you’re going to go here or there or here. They get to choose where they go each day. Obviously, we encourage homework and education first. When we get that out of the way, then they get to go to the different areas. So it’s hard to say we utilize or under-utilize programs. Our sports programs are growing every year. Football has kind of hit a plateau, but the others continue to grow. We’re serving about 1500 kids in sports throughout the year.
KZ: Are there any programs that you don’t have in place now that you would like to implement?
TF: I think there’s always opportunities to do new things differently. There are some programs, if we had more staffing, that have the potential for us to a little bit more. We could have more hours of operation for those choices. We have a decent anti-bullying program, but it would be nice to try something a little different, like bringing in resources that have a little different twist. Every kid doesn’t learn the same way, so the more opportunities you can share with the kids, to be able to experience those types of trainings, it may click for another kid. It’s just like having a variety of staff, so you can try to have a staff member for every kid to connect to. The more opportunity we have to bring diversity into staffing, the better opportunity we have to reach kids as well.
KZ: Are you referring to paid staff or volunteer staff?
TF: Both. We have five full-time staff across the facility, this one and the other one, and then we have about 23 part-time staff and about 300 volunteers, which includes our coaches.
KZ: If you bring any other volunteer staff on board, is there a particular type or skill-set you’re looking for?
TF: We could always use more in the technology area. That’s really a struggle for us. Trying to keep the facility’s technology up is one area and the other component is trying to teach the kids technology, like code or web design. Those would be some of the things would be good to add to what we’re already doing.
KZ: You mentioned that you have about 330 members participate daily and your current 2016 Spring Program Guide indicates you have more than 3000 members.
TF: About 10% of our members come every day—and when I say every day, that refers to the number, so we may have 700 to 1000 kids who are in the after-school program. Some parents only use it for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, because they are off work Tuesday and Thursday, so those kids are out while other kids come in, so the average is still 330.
KZ: How are the other 2000 kids using the club?
TF: Sports. Summer camp. Our summer population has a lot of influx as well. Summer camp will bring in an additional 700 kids for those programs.
KZ: Do you still have more room for those summer programs?
TF: Yes. Club West is really the only struggle we have in the after-school arena. The 210 to 220 kids they have over there is maxing out that facility in terms of the size of the facility, as well as staff.
KZ: Are there any plans to increase the physical size of that facility?
TF: We’re doing some feasibility studies of what it would take to physically build a new facility. We’re looking to eventually partnering with the Whitestown Community Center—they’re looking at building as well. So, we’re kind of in that feasibility study stage at this point. As soon as we get a plan that is feasible, we’re going to start moving forward.
KZ: Are there funds available for expansion?
TF: There would be a capital campaign that we would venture into. We have some resources in place, but most of our resources are currently operational. Our operational budget is about $1.1 million a year.
KZ: Are there any misconceptions about the organization you feel need clarification?
TF: One thing I would say is that the club is not just for poor kids or kids who are struggling. It’s for all kids. A lot of people think “Inner-city of Indianapolis or Chicago or Atlanta. That’s what Boys & Girls Clubs are.” But, right here in the Zionsville area there are a lot of needs as well, and it’s for all kids.
KZ: Kids are kids.
TF: Exactly, kids are kids and the diversity that we have in our clubs is what makes our clubs special. From the single parent to the two-parent homes, from higher social-economic status to lower social-economic status, it’s just a wide variety of children that participate. But here, they’re all equal—and that’s what makes it so impressive and such a rich environment for kids to grow in.
KZ: What is the percentage of boys to girls?
TF: We have about 63% boys and 37% girls.
KZ: Why do you think there’s such a discrepancy in those numbers?
TF: I’m not exactly sure, because our programming is for both boys and girls. At our West Club, the percentage of girls is a little higher. We have a dance program there, so I think that helps to pull more girls into that unit.
KZ: Do you need to live in Zionsville to be a member?
TF: No, you do not. That’s another misconception. An additional misconception is that we’re funded from groups outside of the community, but we’re really not. The Boys & Girls Club of America doesn’t have funds that it passes down to us. United Way does, for about 5% of our budget. The rest of it is all local dollars, from individuals and foundations, supporting the Zionsville clubs.
KZ: In addition to the technology staffing help you mentioned, what other types of volunteer help do you currently need?
TF: Volunteer help can be tailored to the individual’s skill-set. If we have somebody who can devote an 8-week period of time, and they happen to be a banker, we’ll refer them to Money Matters where they can help our staff and give the piece that much higher a level of sophistication. If we have a person who is very much interested in civic engagement, we have our Coach Club Kids, who are doing projects outside the club. If volunteers wanted to help with that, it would be another hour a week—and that program does run continuously, so if there is a specific period of time they could donate their hours, that would be a good program to go to. We also have the tutoring components, if they want to come in after school. If they want to come in and help run tournaments in the game room or if they want to come and do a one-time clean-up event. As a company effort, employees from LIDS came in and painted a gym, which is an example of how a company can come in and do a one-time piece for us. Kohl’s department store does an awful lot in support for the club. They bring in a group of volunteers and knock out a huge project.
KZ: How else can members of the community contribute to the organization?
TF: Basically, there are three ways you can do it. You can advocate for the club and the great things we’re doing, you can help support us financially, and you can help by spending some time with the kids in the club. Those are the three main pieces that the community can step up and help with.
KZ: Are there any final statements or pleas to the community that you want to to make on behalf of the organization?
TF: I would just say we welcome everybody into the club to take a tour, because I think that’s when it becomes contagious. Once you see it in operation and you have the kids flowing through the building—you see the programs in operations, you see the smiles on the kids’ faces, you see the parents trying to take their children home and the kids says, “Can I stay, I need to do this, I want to do that, I don’t want to leave yet.”—that ‘s when it speaks volumes about the quality of the programs at the club.
Show Your Support
If you’ve read this far, you’re obviously intrigued with the Boys & Girls Club of Zionsville and all of the benefits it provides to the community. Perhaps it’s time for you to step up and support their mission and their efforts to help develop our next generation of leaders. To do so, contact Tim Fretz by phone at (317) 873-6670 or by email at email@example.com.