Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County Wins 2023 Leighton Award for Nonprofit Excellence

Studebaker National Museum, Potawatomi Zoo Receive Special Recognition

The Community Foundation of St. Joseph County has named Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County winner of its 2023 Leighton Award for Nonprofit Excellence. The award recognizes BGCSJC for its unwavering commitment to the betterment of our community’s children.

During the past three years alone, through the COVID-19 pandemic, BGCSJC has grown from serving children at five sites to 29 sites, developing effective programs to improve the academic success and emotional well-being of the children and teens in its programs. Today, the club serves more than 3,000 young people with plans to grow this number to over 5,000.

“Coming out of Covid, we discovered that 90% of our kids were below proficiency academically,” said Jacqueline Kronk, CEO of BGCSJC. “We realized we had a lot of work to do.”

BGCSJC’s STRIVE program focuses on academic enrichment to combat the learning loss caused by the pandemic. It partners with the Robinson Community Learning Center, Riverbend Math, and each of its local schools to cater tailored curriculum and enhanced tutoring for students. These programs are delivering remarkable results. At the end of Year 2, 65% of participating students advanced one or more grade levels in literacy and 69% advanced one or more grade levels in math. Over 20% of students achieved “outstanding growth” by advancing two or more grade levels in both areas.

The Leighton Award Committee was especially impressed with BGCSJC’s commitment to recruiting, developing, and retaining its staff. Kronk, winner of the 2022 Civic Visionary Award, rejects any non-profit staffing model that squeezes, overworks, and burns out good people.

“We want to coach our people so they can be the best version of themselves, and then they can pass that along to the kids,” says Kronk.

In addition to nurturing and developing its staff, BGCSJC has demonstrated an impressive commitment to its own financial stewardship to ensure the organization’s long-term viability for years and decades to come.

As the 2023 Leighton Award winner, Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County receives a $150,000 endowment challenge grant and must raise $150,000 in matching funds. The resulting $300,000 will be added to BGCSJC’s endowed fund with the Community Foundation, providing annual resources to support the organization’s mission. BGCSJC will also receive a $25,000 cash award.

The Community Foundation also named two Special Recognition winners as part of the award process, and each organization will receive a $10,000 grant. These awards recognize local non-profits that are pursuing new standards of excellence within the community.

The Studebaker National Museum is the first winner of this Special Recognition award, in appreciation of its impressive leadership and innovative storytelling. During a time when museum attendance is down across the nation and many auto museums are closing their doors for good, Studebaker National Museum has seen surging attendance thanks to the dedicated work of its staff, led by Patrick Slebonick, and board of directors.

The second winner is the Potawatomi Zoo, recognized for its continued work toward becoming a modern zoo and enhancing the quality of life for the people of St. Joseph County. Since going private in 2015, the Zoo has invested more than $21 million in enhancements and improvements, with more to come. In 2022, a record-breaking 316,000 people visited the zoo. Potawatomi Zoo is ably led by Executive Director Joshua Sisk.

Established by Judd and Mary Lou Leighton and the Leighton-Oare Foundation in 1999, the Leighton Award encourages the community’s nonprofit organizations to pursue excellence at every level of their operations. Previous winners of this award include LOGAN (2000); Center for the Homeless (2001); South Bend Heritage Foundation (2002); REAL Services (2003); St. Joseph Health Center at Chapin Street (2004); Goodwill Industries of Michiana (2005); Center for Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc. (2006); South Bend Civic Theatre (2007), the YWCA of St. Joseph County (2008), the St. Joseph County Public Library (2009), the Women’s Care Center (2010), Family & Children’s Center (2011), St. Margaret’s House (2012), the Center for History (2013), the Fischoff National Chamber Music Association (2014), Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County (2015), the CASIE Center (2017), the South Bend Symphony Orchestra (2019), and La Casa de Amistad in 2021. In 2015, the Leighton Award moved to a biennial process, rather than an annual process, and increased the amount of the award provided. The next Leighton Award process will take place in August 2025.

Published: September 25, 2023
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