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Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 10:29 am

A new plan for the Boys and Girls Club

Bill Legge makes another rescue attempt, one step at a time


Bill Legge took over as director of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois in February. He hopes to reopen the club’s main facility and bring financial stability to the troubled organization.

When William “Bill” Legge first took over as acting director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois in February, he found disenchanted donors, a building in need of renovations and a quarter of a million dollars in debt.

The troubled organization had missed a major grant deadline, closed its main facility and hadn’t created a workable budget in two years. Legge is the third director in three years, and he says he’s committed to rebuilding the organization by fixing its finances, its facilities and its standing in the community. But he says the troubled organization isn’t out of the woods yet.

Originally from Carlinville, Legge previously spent about a decade working in sales and management in several different states. Through his job with cellular provider Nextel, Legge ended up in Springfield.

“I got the special package to go to the place nobody wanted to go,” Legge says with a laugh. “Little did they know it was where I was trying to go in the first place.”

He first got involved with the Boys and Girls Club through his membership in the American Business Club of Springfield, a nonprofit service organization comprised of local business leaders. Though Legge eventually left Springfield to go back to school, earning a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, he remained in contact with the American Business Club and soon realized the deep needs of the Boys and Girls Club. He joined the organization’s board in order to help out, and wound up being asked to take over as director.

“Very quickly it became apparent how big of a mess we were stepping into,” Legge said. “There was no real solid plan to move forward. It looked like every single department needed help.”

Legge speaks openly about the mistakes made by the club’s previous leadership, as well as the challenges still facing the organization. The club’s financial situation was especially dire, not because of any fraud or intentional wrongdoing, but merely because of disorganization in accounting, poor attention to detail and a few key decisions that went sour, he says.

Prior to Legge’s start, the Boys and Girls Club struggled to keep a director. Former director Doug King started in 2011 and spent 16 months trying to remedy the financial instability that has plagued the club for years. King came out of retirement to lead the club and succeeded in selling off a facility in Jacksonville that was no longer used after the club shut down its program there. King retired again and was replaced by Pamela Woodson, who served only about six months before leaving the post. It was under Woodson’s watch that the Boys and Girls Club missed an important grant application deadline that resulted in the closure or reduction of after-school programs at nine schools.

Legge’s first step after becoming the club’s new director was hiring a certified public accountant to restructure how the club tracks its finances. Legge and his staff – which he describes as “bare-bones”– formed committees to tackle various issues like building upgrades, while Legge has been applying for grants and meeting with donors to begin reestablishing trust in the club’s leadership.

Several donors have already stepped up to help, including the Springfield Sertoma Club, Siciliano Inc., United Way, the Green Family Stores car dealerships and the Chrans family of Springfield, whose late matriarch, Agnes Chrans, began volunteering at the club in the 1950s.

The Boys and Girls Club’s 21st Century after-school program continues to operate in 10 Springfield public schools that weren’t affected by the missed grant deadline, but the main site at 300 S. 15th Street is currently closed. Legge has a three-phase plan to reopen the main site in October and slowly rebuild the services offered by the club.

“I can’t really stop to pat myself on the back and congratulate our team until we’re back to serving 50 kids every day,” he said.

Legge and staff are using the downtime to paint, clean, replace carpet and do other small improvements. Still, the facility is in need of a major renovation. The boiler is from 1960 and is on its last leg. Several rooms need painting. The gym’s carpet is stained and stinky. A wooden plaque in the gym commemorates the last renovation in April 1993 – more than 20 years ago.

Legge says he was inspired by the recent Sharefest “extreme school makeover” project at McClernand and Jane Addams elementary schools, and he says he would welcome an organized group of volunteers who could take on larger projects that his staff can’t do on their own.

Despite the tough road ahead, Legge says he feels more fulfilled in his new role than he ever felt working in the private sector.

“In my previous career, the focus was always on sales,” he said. “It was all numbers, numbers numbers, and those numbers all had dollar signs in front of them. Here, there’s still a lot of focus on numbers, but it’s number of children, what outcomes did you produce, how many lives did you touch? To me, that’s so much more rewarding.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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