Director reflects on his first year, looks to the future
-By Luke O’Neill
Greg Jackson may not look like your typical executive director – and perhaps that’s a good thing.
On a recent visit to the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club, Jackson sported a royal-blue, long-sleeved Polo rugby shirt, the kind with the big horse guy on the left pectoral. He wore khakis and bright white Nike sneakers with the Nike swoosh matching his royal-blue shirt.
His occasional glance, however, at his BlackBerry tells you he’s a busy guy with an important job and important responsibilities. At 41, Jackson’s upbeat energy matches the energy of the kids he watches run through the club.
Jackson grew up in Charlestown and was a member of the club at six years old. He was named the club’s executive director in January 2010. Many of the club’s longtime employees are also Jackson’s childhood friends.
Last week, Jackson sat down with the Patriot-Bridge to reflect on his first year as the club’s executive director – and to look at the year ahead.
Q. You’ve been here 14 months as director. What’s it been like?
A. It’s been great. It’s been kind of a whirlwind. You spend the first six months trying to get acclimated – get to know the staff and organization. Then next thing you know you’re in the middle of summer camp and the summer flies by. I really felt settled in this past September – the beginning of the program year, the school year. I think I got to implement a lot of things that were my vision for the program and staff. I do feel firmly planted here now. You can’t come in like a bull in a china shop and immediately take over and erase everything that people have done here for years.
Q. What goals do you have for the club this year?
A. I’d like to expand our membership. We’ve seen a little dip in our membership over the past 12 months for different reasons. I’d like to get families a little more involved – moms and dads involved with the programs. If you were to poll our parents, I guarantee you 75 percent of them wouldn’t be able to tell you what type of programming we have going on here. They may think it’s just: ‘My kid goes up there and plays pool all day.’ They don’t know about the Torch Club or about these great Money Matters programs or the mentoring programs or even the services we offer for parents and families. It bums me out when the mom or dad of a 6-year-old kid drops their kid off at the corner of Green Street and High Street and lets their kid walk into the club by him or herself. They don’t come in and meet the staff. They don’t fully vet the place. So we’re trying to get families a little bit more involved in our programs.
Q. What obstacles do you face in meeting these goals?
A. I think we need to devote more resources to outreach, as a staff, to make sure people know what we have going on – and whether that’s using local media outlets or getting into the schools a little more. Another obstacle is the schools now offer extended-day programs, which kind of cuts into our market share. The Prescott School and the Kent School are doing extended days now ’til 5 and 6 o’clock. And the Edwards Middle School is also doing after-school and extended-day things. I think we’re seeing parents are maybe more comfortable having their kid stay in that same facility instead of having them walk to the club. So that’s a big challenge for us.
Q. Is there a solution for that?
A. I think it’s community outreach, letting people know what we have to offer. I think we have a great range of programming. If people know what we have to offer and what their kids can get from the club, I think we’ll start to pull those kids back here or recruit new kids and families who aren’t familiar with the club to get them involved as well.
Q. What are some broader community issues that need to be addressed?
A. I think you always have the issue of making sure kids are getting through school. It bums me out when you drive through town and see kids who should be in school – some as young as elementary school-age kids that are not in school for whatever reason…. I think there’s a huge gap educationally where these kids aren’t getting what they should or they’re not being pushed to make sure they’re taking advantage of their educational choices.
Q. How do these issues impact your job and the club?
A. We, as a community-service agency, have the obligation to make sure whatever resources we have available, not only to the kids but to the families, that we’re sharing them – that we’re fully taking advantage of the talents of our staff to make sure we’re letting everybody know what we’re capable of doing, what we have to offer and how we can help.
Q. How do you view the club’s role within the larger community?
A. I’ve always viewed the club as a place where once you walk in the door everybody’s on an equal footing. It doesn’t matter if you come from a $6 million brownstone on Monument Square or if you come from the middle of the Bunker Hill Housing Development. A kid’s a kid once they walk through the door, and once they’re in here we want to make sure that everybody’s getting treated the same. … We’re here to serve the entire population of the community.
Q. Coming back to Charlestown, how has the community changed?
A. I certainly think the makeup of the town has changed in terms of the diversity. When I grew up, everybody looked like me. Everybody was white, Irish-Catholic and looked exactly the same. Now you’ve got all these great mixes of different ethnicities. To me the neatest thing is you’ll see fifth-generation Charlestown kids, 6 and 7 years old, walking up the street with African-American kids, Asian kids and Latino kids – and it’s seamless; there’s no separation there and that’s the way it should be. They’re just kids and they don’t see anything else but that, but that’s how they’ve grown up in Charlestown