One statistic in a recent community demographic study jarred Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County President and CEO Bill Sadlo: More than 85% of the families the nonprofit serves have household incomes under $42,000.
That trapped-in-poverty metric led Sadlo and the Boys & Girls Clubs board to think differently about how the organization, widely known for after-school programs and camps, could amplify its strategy with families. Around the same time, in 2015, two influential donors, Barbara Lancer and Jeff Roberti, told Sadlo about a career and entrepreneurship program for teens at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis. In the backyard of FedEx's corporate headquarters, one of the key disciplines of that curriculum is logistics. “It was a really neat program,” says Sadlo, who traveled to Memphis for a tour.
Two years later, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County has its own career and entrepreneurship program, the Tom and Debbie Shapiro Career Resource Center. It's at the Lee Wetherington branch on Fruitville Road. Instead of logistics, the Sarasota version of the program, which officially opened in the fall, addresses a major obstacle for area companies: finding skilled employees who seek a career, not a job. “This new space shows our club members that a greater future for them and their families is in reach,” Sadlo says.
The organization's board, which includes several executives in trades, homebuilding and real estate, sees the issue from another side. Many companies in the business community, especially in trades, struggle to find top employees. The board chairman for instance, is Jamie DiDomenico, president of Cool Today, Plumbing Today and Energy Today. The past chair is Tom Shapiro, who runs Sarasota-based Sterling, a bathroom and kitchen countertop and cabinet manufacturing and installation business with about $25 million in annual revenue. The Shapiros are longtime Boys & Girls Clubs supporters.
The Career Resource Center is a renovation of an old storage shed and garage on the club's property. The 1,500-square-foot space is now broken down into rooms for trades, classroom and a sound studio. Students in the program can be in middle school or high school, and there's a large mentorship component with area business leaders.
Programs and classes at the center include vocational training in the electric, plumbing, automotive fields; culinary and hospitality initiatives; and digital media, such as podcast production. Classes are done in partnership with industry professionals. Plumbing Today, for example, provides the plumbing instructor. Local chefs work with the teens on preparing, serving and front and back of the house operations.
The Career Resource Center is also part of a larger effort to refocus attention on teens at Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. At the Fruitville Road facility, it includes a makeover of the large game room and lounge area. That space will become a relaxed space with a coffee and smoothie bar run by teens.
The center and inside changes, all together, will have a total value of around $500,000. A large portion of that comes in donated materials, labor and money. Beyond cost, the additions and renovations are a large step out of the Boys & Girls Clubs' comfort zone. “We are no longer just a swim and gym,” says Boys & Girls Clubs Director of Advancement Yolanda Mancha.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America President Jim Clark noted as much when he attended the Sept. 29 dedication of the Tom and Debbie Shapiro Career Resource Center. “From a national perspective, this is a model,” Clark says in a statement.
Sadlo says a key in creating the program was not to duplicate the services and classes already provided at places like Suncoast Technical College. Now, with year one of the program nearing completion, Sadlo looks to doing more, both within the curriculum and maybe expanding it to other Boys & Girls Clubs campuses in Sarasota County. Says Sadlo: “We want to plant a seed with our members when they are at a young age.”