Boys & Girls Club should account fully for deficits

The Beaufort Boys & Girls Club is finding it difficult to live within its increasingly meager means. Donations and grants are on the wane, and the organization has been staggered by three consecutive years of six-figure deficits.

Drastic cuts to programs are imminent, says Chris Protz, the recently appointed executive director of the club's parent organization, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry. Many could be eliminated altogether if the bottom line doesn't improve.

It's going to take a mighty effort by club officials and the community to restore the club's financial health, but it's worth it. Combined, the Beaufort and Sheldon clubs that serve northern Beaufort County have 600 members between ages 6 and 18. Average daily attendance is 205 during the school year and 255 during summer months. Members participate in programs that foster academic success, athletic performance, artistic expression, civic involvement and character development.

The value of and demand for such programs is undeniable. Still, the club must do its part in return for community support. Its financial troubles have been neither sudden, nor curtailed by significant cost-cutting measures. The public must be assured it is not being asked to throw good money after bad. So before the club passes the hat, it needs to explain how it arrived at such dire straits.

The Beaufort club is one of five that make up the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry. In 2010, the umbrella organization centralized its fundraising and outreach in an attempt to operate more efficiently. However, this past fall, its board determined this approach was not working and cut central office staff.

Such cutbacks have become all too common.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry closed clubs in Hampton, Colleton and Allendale counties at the height of the recession in 2009. A year later, the Beaufort club closed its satellite operations in Coosa and Lady's Island elementary schools, and in 2011, it shifted its teen club from a separate center on Harrington Street into its main building on Boundary Street.

Protz, who is about eight weeks into his new job after arriving from the Milwaukee area, said the club has spent too much on operations, staff and programs the past three years and has had to draw more than $1 million from savings. About $300,000 remain in reserves, but about $250,000 of it can be spent only under specific conditions.

Meanwhile, deficits have ranged from $350,000 to this year's $213,000, he said.

The club wants to raise $200,000 by Sept. 30 to avoid another projected deficit and begin a three-year plan to replenish savings. Board members will ask for donations from residents and businesses; planned fundraisers include car washes, a golf tournament, a road race and a concert with Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers.

On the expense side of the ledger, the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club will pare back the summer program at its in-town club from about 160 children to 80, which is expected to save about $50,000.

Having to reduce the number or scope of its programs is unfortunate because it undermines its larger mission. Addressing these issues demands the community's attention and a clear plan from the leaders of the Boys & Girls Club.