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Commentary: Don’t You Quit

Sometimes good ideas don’t work out exactly as you planned. That doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong. The world is a dynamic place and it might just be that the path you laid out couldn’t envision every twist and turn along the way. Despite a reasonable roadmap and our very best effort, sometimes we still fail to reach our destination.

When we find ourselves lost in the woods, we often have two choices. We can give up, turn back, and decide that our trek just isn’t worth continued effort. Or we can conclude that our journey is noble enough, and our destination meaningful enough, that it warrants recommitting ourselves to this calling.

My late father was as determined a man as I’ve ever known. His focus and commitment enabled him to overcome numerous obstacles in his lifetime including service in World War II and Korea where he won the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Perhaps nothing better articulated my father’s character than the famous poem by John Greenleaf Whittier that sat framed on his desk. The first stanzas of “Don’t Quit” read:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

All this was on my mind during a recent meeting with Julie Davis, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Door County, and two highly respected members of their Board, Steve Kane and Fran Shefchik. They visited the Community Foundation to talk about the financial crisis they are currently confronting. The Boys and Girls Club is running an alarming deficit and have already made dramatic cuts in an attempt to close the budget gap. Yet the crisis continues.

In the last five years our Boys and Girls Club has experienced tremendous growth. They completed a capital campaign which enabled them to acquire and renovate what is now known as the David Hatch Center – a facility that is debt free. Their average daily attendance increased by an incredible 2,000 percent. Their success was so significant that our local club was presented the prestigious Honor Award for Overall Program Excellence by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

If our club was a typical for-profit business, it would be recording record profits. But of course, it’s a nonprofit organization because there is no profit to be made. The kids who attend programs at the Boys and Girls Club are charged a token fee of $36 per year. That means Door County’s children pay only a few pennies for every dollar it costs for the club to work with them.

Let me put it even more bluntly. Every time a new kid walks through the doors of the Boys and Girls Club, they lose more money. That’s why they’re a charity. The club depends on the charity of others to cover the cost of serving the children of Door County.

Of course, our local club isn’t unique. There are Boys and Girls Clubs all over America that operate under the same business model. So it’s reasonable to ask how our club ended up in this situation. Indeed, two years ago, at the request of several of our donors, the Community Foundation met with the club’s leadership to raise a concern about their aggressive expansion. I recall at the time being impressed with both their passion for helping kids and the reasonableness of the plan they had laid out to manage the growing financial burden.

But then life happened. Projections fell short. Staff turned over. Contingency plans were implemented and didn’t work out as hoped.

Thus we’re now at a crisis point when we as a community have a choice. We can conclude that this journey should come to an end. Or we can decide that the mission of the Boys and Girls Club continues to be worthy of our effort and recommit ourselves to forging a new pathway forward.

During my recent meeting with Julie Davis and their board members, I poked and prodded them into explaining to me – in sometimes painful detail – how they ended up in this financial crisis. I challenged them to justify their continued existence. I questioned the assumptions underlying their workout plan and asked how they will ensure we don’t end up in this same situation a couple of years from now. The club’s leadership was brutally honest, exceptionally forthright, and always professional in their responses.

Then as we adjourned our meeting and I sat down behind my desk to decide what the Community Foundation should do next, I heard echoes of my father’s voice telling me “don’t you quit.” I’m not 100 percent sure that the workout plan of our Boys and Girls Club will achieve its goals, but I do believe there is a good chance of success. And I’m absolutely certain that Door County’s kids are worthy of the effort.

Thus I invite you to join with us at the Community Foundation in supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Door County. You can give directly to our Boys and Girls Club online at BGCDoorCounty.org. Or you can send a contribution to the Community Foundation (222 N. Third Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI  54235) and 100 percent of your gift will be passed along to the Club.

Success is failure turned inside out,

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell just how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far;

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Bret Bicoy is president and CEO of the Door County Community Foundation. Contact him at [email protected]

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