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Community Connections: Mike Ryan Shares How Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida Changes the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth

January 07, 2021

Mike Ryan at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida

Lowndes attorney Mike Ryan serves on the board of directors of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida. In recognition of National Mentoring Month, Mikes shares how the organization inspires and enables our community’s disadvantaged youth to realize their full potential.

When did you first get involved with Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida?

My involvement with the board of directors of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida began in November 2006. That same year, I was serving on the board of directors of the American Red Cross of Central Florida, which had been previously chaired by Lowndes partner Bob Higgins and is another excellent organization in the community. After eight years of involvement with the Red Cross, including serving as board chair, I was ready for something different. A very good friend of mine, Marshall Vermillion, who was serving as board chair of Boys & Girls Clubs at the time, called and asked me to join. I’ve been involved ever since.

What attracted you to this organization in particular?

Undoubtedly, the incredible passion for Boys & Girls Clubs’ mission of then-board chair Marshall Vermillion and CEO Gary Cain initially drew me to the organization. Marshall and his bank had been long-time supporters of Boys & Girls Clubs, championing the work of the organization throughout the community. He then introduced me to CEO Gary Cain, who was even more passionate about enabling our community’s disadvantaged youth to realize their full potential. I was also impressed by the organized, business-like approach to operations and fundraising. A Club tour, and then an opportunity to be a judge at a speech competition among the Club members, and I was hooked!

How have you benefited from your involvement?

There is a deep personal satisfaction in working together with like-minded, smart, energetic individuals to make something good happen, particularly when it benefits children who may be living in some of the most poverty-stricken, high-crime areas of our community. The difference that Boys & Girls Clubs can make in the individual life of each child member and the long-term positive impact that this can have on our community has garnered increased support for expanding the reach of Clubs to serve more kids. I am pleased to have played a part in helping to make that growth happen.

What are some of the most important activities/work that Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida does?

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida includes 33 Clubs throughout Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Brevard, Lake and Nassau Counties serving (pre-pandemic) over 15,000 members. Club members include boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 18. They come to what they proudly call “MY Club” after school and in the summer. There, they find a safe place where their parents do not need to worry about them being either home alone or on the streets without adult supervision.  

The Clubs are more than child-care or teen hangouts… Club directors and staff are trained to develop programs to inspire their kids toward academic success, community volunteerism and healthy lifestyles. Ninety-two percent of Club members qualify for free lunch at the traditional clubs, and 60% of the children live in single parent households. This past year, 100% of the high school senior members graduated, and 88% entered college, vocational school or the U.S. military. Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida facilitated $3.2 million in scholarships for members to attend the college of their choice. Additionally, 98% of Club members were promoted to the next grade level.

These are great statistics, but they do not tell the most important story: the story as told by numerous individual members of how Boys & Girls Clubs helped them overcome unbelievable hardships and inspired them to dream big and be successful in life.

What do you hope Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida will achieve in the near future?

In March 2021, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida will complete construction of the Jacqueline Bradley & Clarence Otis Family Branch in the West Lakes Community in Downtown Orlando to serve 250 new Club members. The Club is being constructed as part of a multi-pronged initiative known as “Lift Orlando” and will join other Lift Orlando initiatives to aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty and crime in that neighborhood. A health and wellness center, an early learning center and brand-new affordable housing will be built in what was once considered some of the most blighted areas in Central Florida. Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida and Lift Orlando share the same vision: to build “a neighborhood where children grow up with hope and return with joy”.   

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida [a specific program or event, or anything else]?

It has recently been reported that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida will receive a large-value bequest from the estate of Syd Levy. I am proud of the fact that fellow Lowndes attorney and probate litigator Melody Lynch was instrumental in providing Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida with legal representation in connection with some very complicated and tortuous estate proceedings, to end in a good result. The impact this gift will make on the youth of our Central Florida community is immeasurable.

Do you have any additional message to share?

I encourage anyone who would like to learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs to contact me and I would be happy to arrange a Club tour. One tour with a Club member, and you may be “hooked” as I was.

For more information, visit Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida.

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