Driving through the streets of Monticello, Indiana, you may stumble upon Woodlawn Elementary School—a seemingly unsuspecting building that is bursting with soul. While it no longer functions as an elementary school, that has not stopped little feet from galloping through the halls. The space is used as a local food pantry, but more prominently, serves as a home to the Boys and Girls Club of White County.
On any given day, about 190 school-aged children pass through the doors of the Boys and Girls Club for after-school programming, and a total of 532 community members are served annually through a combination of programs, including summer club.
“We see a lot of lower income students, but you don’t have to be low income to benefit from the Club,” said Dan Fry, Unit Director of the Boys and Girls Club of White County, Indiana. “It’s a great place for kids to come for after-school interaction and socialization, especially if they aren’t involved in sports. It’s something that’s affordable and safe that helps to develop a sense of community.”
During the school year, children in the club are transported via school bus and can enjoy an after-school snack, socialize with their peers, receive homework help and partake in activities that Fry refers to as “high-yield” learning, which incorporate multi-disciplinary benefits, from leadership development to physical activity to character-building. The children are also introduced to career-speakers and have the option to join specialized clubs for more individualized learning, like gardening club and nature club.
The Club initially began operating out of a functioning elementary school, but membership quickly grew too large, forcing them to move to the more permanent location of the vacant Woodlawn Elementary school building. This rapid growth coupled with the significant impact the Club plays on young people’s lives in the community makes it surprising to learn that a few short years ago there were questions as to whether the program would be successful.
Following the decline and ultimate failure of a similar local program shortly after its launch, there were concerns about the sustainability of starting a local Boys and Girls Club chapter. In 2013, the community established a steering committee to conduct a needs assessment and facilitate open discussions with the community and schools. One of the members of that steering committee was Chris Overmyer, President and CEO of Fratco.
Not only did Overmyer gather community support by spearheading many of the meetings surrounding the establishment of the Club, he also involved Fratco to help the Club jump a hurdle that every startup faces: gathering an appropriate amount of funds.
“Fratco did more than simply provide financial clout,” Fry said. “They brought validity to the Club by showing other businesses that, as something kids in our community need, it is a viable option for investment. Financially, Fratco set the tone and benchmark for what we’d like other donors to be.”
The Community Foundation of White County offered a matching grant of $20,000 which encouraged other businesses to contribute. But the Club’s first donation was made by Fratco.
According to Fry, Fratco’s financial pledge showed the Boys and Girls Club of Tippecanoe County, Indiana, the governing body of the Club in White County, Indiana, that there was interest and encouragement within the community to make the Club successful. With this support, the Club was able to open its doors early.
“Having Fratco’s initial backing allowed us to focus on the foundation rather than the funds,” Fry said. “Frankly, I can’t say for certain if [the Club] would have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for Fratco’s assistance and Chris’ guidance.”
Fratco’s involvement did not cease following the Club’s launch. They provide ongoing support and make donations to the Club annually; a contribution which is necessary to embolden the development of the children served as membership continues to increase. These donations are seen as investments in the future of the community, as those who attend the Club’s programming advance their skillset and pave hopeful paths for themselves.
“It’s great to have the support of such a prominent, family-oriented company in the community,” Fry said. “Both organizations value similar things. I treat all of the children here like they are my own and treat the staff like my brothers and sisters. We really feel like a family, and that’s the notion I get from Fratco as well.”
In January of 2019, the Boys and Girls Club of White County, Indiana celebrated their fifth birthday and are looking ahead to what the next five years have in store. Like Fratco, the Club constantly strives to innovate and change their way of thinking, staying flexible to welcome new ideas as they come. Together with open minds and open hearts, Fratco and the Club provide an invaluable impact on the community, bolstering young dreamers today to become leaders tomorrow.