In honor of the release of Kohl’s 2020 Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report, we recently chatted with Kathy Thornton-Bias, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, taking a dive deeper into the critical role the organization plays in the community. Kathy discussed how Kohl’s support is helping the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, the largest chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs in the country, to further their mission of inspiring and empowering all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself, your role at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, and the organization’s role in the Milwaukee community.
I’m Kathy Thornton-Bias, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. The Clubs have been a beacon in Milwaukee for 134 years. We provide thousands of young people with programs and resources that help them achieve academic success, make healthy life choices, and foster the skills they need to reach their full potential. We accomplish this in part by cultivating strong relationships with community and corporate partners, like Kohl’s, that see and believe in the potential of Milwaukee’s promising youth. These youth are the Milwaukee we want to see, and at the Clubs we believe that with the right foundation, the right structure, the right partnerships, and the right purpose, our youth have limitless potential.
Q. There’s no question that 2020 was an extremely difficult year for everyone. When you reflect on the past year, what comes to mind as some of the challenges that your Club members and their families, as well as your organization faced and how did you overcome those?
To say that the past year has been challenging is a considerable understatement. Data shows the pandemic has had disproportionate health and economic impacts on the communities our Clubs serve. Longterm school closures and work disruptions have taken a tremendous toll on children and families who already lack resources and access to services. As the largest youth-serving organization in Milwaukee, it has been imperative we remain open to provide equitable access to technology and connectivity and a supportive learning environment for students navigating a new learning format. The pandemic, layered with the social injustices and systemic racism that plague our communities of Color have driven trauma, pain and fatigue to sometimes overwhelming levels. At the Clubs, we believe social emotional wellbeing is central to recovering from the events of the past year. Social emotional learning is the starting point for getting kids reengaged. That’s why we integrate social emotional development into every program we operate.
Q. What is your favorite part of your job?
I love my job, but my favorite days are when I get to interact with our Club members. The youth we serve are smart, talented, funny and inspiring. They are unafraid to share their thoughts, and I always learn something new when I’m with them. These moments of one-on-one time drive me to do whatever it takes to improve outcomes for our students. They deserve the best from all of us, and my staff and I are committed and dedicated to delivering results.
Q. As you look to the year ahead, what gives you hope? What are you most excited about for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee?
We are extremely optimistic about the path forward for our Clubs. We are encouraged by the rising rates of vaccination in Milwaukee and by Milwaukee Public Schools’ plan to return to in-person learning. The majority of our Clubs have been open at reduced capacity and with safety measures in place since summer of last year. Our incredible youth development professionals have been able to provide safe, healthy spaces for students to learn and socialize with their peers, which is critical to social emotional wellbeing and mental health. We are looking forward to welcoming even more youth into our Clubs as students return to their schools. We couldn’t be more excited to get back to doing what we do best, enriching the lives of our youth.
Q. As the CEO for the largest chapter of the Boys & Girls Clubs in the country, what advice do you have for those who are looking to give back to their communities?
Our organization thrives on the generosity and talents of our community members and corporate partners. We are very excited to welcome back positive, skilled and committed volunteers to our Clubs in the near future. Our valuable volunteers support Club members on an ongoing basis with one-on-one tutoring, homework help, art projects, recreational activities, and more. We also rely on our generous volunteers to support special events. If you’re interested in giving your time or talents to support youth, don’t be shy about speaking up. Show up. Get involved. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to your network and get ideas about what they are doing to support their communities, then jump in and share your time and talents. Many of our opportunities can be customized to your particular skills or commitment level.