'I'm blessed,' says Reggie Coleman, new CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County
Ask baseball fans what their walk-up song would be if they were pro baseball players, and most would happily share the tune that most inspires, energizes and motivates them. Reggie Coleman, the new CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County, who at one time aspired to be an NBA star himself, knows the song he’d like to hear on stepping up to bat: "I’m Blessed" by Charlie Wilson.
No surprise: The song is upbeat, positive, filled with gratitude and appreciation for daily life—pretty much what you’d conclude Coleman is feeling if you watched him interact with the kids, staff and volunteers at the clubs he now leads.
“Having a positive impact on kids’ lives is my passion,” Coleman said as he recounted the story of getting his first job with the Boys & Girls Clubs in 1998. “This hasn’t simply been a profession. It’s been a way of life.”
Growing up in Trenton, Coleman had dreams of becoming an NBA star. He played basketball at the Urban League’s recreation center in the West Ward of the city. A communications major at Upsala College in East Orange, he hoped to work calling games for a sports network like ESPN. Instead, after a few years working at ETS (Educational Testing Service) as well as in banking and sales, he saw an opening for the athletic director position at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County. He applied for the job but was in for a surprise when, upon arrival for the interview, he found himself being considered for education director.
He got the job and was immediately sent to Princeton to attend a three-day program on HIV education for kids. So began a lifelong commitment to the Boys & Girls Club. “This was the job for me,” Coleman said.
What followed was a (so far) 24-year career with the Boys & Girls Clubs. with moves to youth development director then to program director and on to executive vice president of operations. Over that time, Coleman watched as his predecessor as CEO, Dave Anderson, helped the club grow to two dedicated centers, several after-school program locations, and summer camp.
Coleman is particularly proud of the group’s emphasis on youth development. “Instead of simply being a ‘gym and swim’ type of club, we focus on education, building the kids up and turning them into solid citizens,” Coleman said. “The goal is to help kids do well in school and to prepare them for life as well-rounded adults.”
The group’s Keystone Club is one way of doing that. Part of the charter of all Boys & Girls Clubs, the Keystone Club provides opportunities for doing community service, learning about social justice and earning points to attend regional and national conferences. Coleman finds those trips especially rewarding.
“Most of the kids on these trips are experiencing all kinds of firsts,” he said. “It’s their first airplane trip, for example, or even the first time leaving their neighborhoods. And that’s when it really hits you—we are having a positive impact on their lives.”
And the kids, he adds, love it. How does he know? He listens to club members. “If a parent comes at five, and we’re not closing until 6:30, the kids will say, ‘Mom, why’d you pick me up so early? I told you not to come until six!’” he explained. “When you hear things like that, you know you’re doing something right.”
As he takes over the CEO position, Coleman is looking forward to making the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mercer County even bigger and better. “I’m excited to expand our reach even more,” he said. “I want to focus on our Ensuring Success campaign, which was put in place to support the organization's transition.” Also on tap is building up the development office, capturing and measuring outcomes, and diversifying income sources.
Perhaps most importantly, Coleman wants more kids to join the club. “We had about 650 kids enrolled in our after-school programs this year,” he explained. “With the two new schools being added this fall, we plan to serve about 800 kids. But with our current structure we could serve 1,000 kids a day.”
Coleman has always been a mentor to the club’s members, but his most recent promotions mean he spends less time with the kids. So he’s been making sure he works closely with the front-line staffers to ensure they bring the same passion to the job that he always has. “They’re the ones interacting with the kids now,” Coleman said. “They’re the new ‘Mr. Reggies.’”
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