Executive Spotlight: Joseph 'Joe' McGovern, CEO, Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires
PITTSFIELD — Joseph "Joe" McGovern has a deep affinity for the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires. He first joined the club when he was nine, worked there as a teenager and developed a lifelong interest in working with young people from some of the administrators he served under.
Three years ago, McGovern wrapped up a six-year tenure as head of the Northern Berkshire United Way to head south and run a large Boys & Girls Club outside Baltimore. He was extremely happy there. But a year later, the head job in Pittsfield opened up again when CEO Chris Jacoby decided to retire, and the Pittsfield native came back home. Why? Having a chance to run the club that he grew up in was his dream job. Despite having to relocate his family twice in two years, McGovern couldn't say no.
We talked with McGovern recently about his history with the club, his reasons for both leaving the Berkshires and coming back, what he's trying to accomplish in Pittsfield, and why the club has a skating rink on the third floor.
Q: Why was running the Boys & Girls Club in Pittsfield your dream job?
A: First and foremost, I grew up there. I was one of those after-school rats who went there everyday. My family was going through some challenges economically and the club was there for me. ... It changed my life, obviously for the better. And I truly believe in this club even though I've had the opportunity to run two other Boys & Girls clubs and two other nonprofit organizations. Everything I had done career-wise was gearing me for the day when I would get to come home and be the person that I grew up with. Some people wanted to be police officers and firefighters. I wanted to grow up to be (former Boys & Girls Club director) Jim Mooney. He was my mentor and my friend.
Q: Why did you go to Maryland?
A: The (Pittsfield) club was in my heart. But the club had just hired a new director at the time and traditionally Boys & Girls Club directors are there for 25 or 30 years. I just thought that if I was going to run a club I'd have to go somewhere else.
Q: When you left did you ever think you would come back?
A: No. To be honest with you things went so well for the first nine or 10 months; the kids were adjusting, my wife had found a full-time job. ... So it was a real good situation. All of a sudden there was an announcement that Chris Jacoby was going to retire, and my phone blew up like crazy. ... I kept saying no. Even after the club had called me and spoken with me a couple of times, I was still saying no. Then my wife sat down with me one night and said you look upset about things, so why don't you take a look. ... There was a part of me that felt awful because we had done some good things in Maryland and made some change there. But this is home, it was my family, and it was my dream job.
Q: What do you like about working with kids?
A: I love the fact that you can never give up on a kid. No matter what troubles they've been going through, no matter what the challenges are in their lives, if they can get around the right people and see the positiveness that we can do, then we can make a difference.
Q: Have you changed anything at the club since you came back?
A: First, we changed the programming. We brought back the drop-in program not to what it was but better than what it was. What that means is a kid can come in after school and there's a variety of things they can do now besides just hanging out in the gym. The second thing was introducing (national) Boys & Girls Club programming that has curriculum set up already and has been successful by the data we've collected — programs like Power Hour, which is homework help. We introduced Smart Girl, and Password to Manhood — it teaches young men to be gentleman, which is lacking in our country.
Q: As CEO, have you changed the business model?
A: Over the years we became overreliant on our (stock) investments to the point where the numbers exceeded what they should be. ... We would take the earnings and put them into operations, but we were taking an incredible amount of money out for a long time. We needed to decrease that for the sustainability of the organization.
Q: How have you done that?
A: We went out and increased our revenues; probably the biggest things were through grants and fundraisers. Our golf tournament is doing really well. More importantly, we put in a tremendous amount of controls from the expense side, and we're running it like any other business.
Q: Has staffing changed?
A: Our four full-time staff, our only full-time (program) staff, are people of color. We have been very committed to making sure our staff is reflective of the kids who come through our doors. This is the first time at the club that all of the full-time staffers are minorities. The biggest change we've made in trying to reach out to these kids is that the mentors and the staff that they work with every day look just like they do. I think it's very positive change for the club.
Q: Given the level of discourse that we have in this country now, how hard is it to teach values to kids today?
A: It's awful. The key word for the Boys & Girls Club moving forward this year is going to be respect. For us what respect means is respect yourself first and foremost, respect your peers and respect the people who are trying to mentor you in life. When our leaders don't show respect to each other, it's difficult to try to teach kids respect for themselves. ... Kids are only going to do what they watch and what they're told to do.
Q: Why did the Boys & Girls Club build a skating rink on the third floor?
A: What I believe happened is, when they did the renovations in the 1960s, they ended up with more money than expected, so they said let's build a rink. At the time there was nowhere else to go but up. ...We're one of only four Boys & Girls clubs in the country that has a rink. And, we're definitely the only one that has it on the third floor over a gymnasium.
Q: How did you get the new Zamboni (the rink's ice clearing machine) up to the third floor?
A: They had to bring in a crane.
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