Shared Interest

Richmond Capital One Club in Richmond, Va.

By Sutton R. Stokes

"You can't always get what you want," goes the song. "But if you try sometimes, you might get what you need."

That's not the experience of the children in one of Richmond, Va.'s poorer neighborhoods, who recently got what they wanted and what they needed: an 8,675-square-foot recreation facility boasting classrooms, a game room, a performance space, a kitchen and an online computer lab, with lighted playground and basketball courts outside.

The Capital One Club, which opened last September in the Providence Park neighborhood of Richmond, is the product of an imaginative partnership between the city of Richmond, neighboring Henrico County, Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, and Capital One Financial Corporation.

This sounds more complicated than it really was.

"Things just fell into place," says Bill Johnson, the Richmond Councilman whose district the new club is in. "It was the right thing to do and the right time to do it and the right [partnership] to bring it together."

Johnson had been considering how to bring a recreation center to his district since he was first elected in 1998. He had long had a site in mind: Providence Park, a two-acre swath of open ground with some old playground equipment and a few dilapidated basketball courts, known to many in the crime-plagued neighborhood as a place to avoid. Johnson knew that anything he could build there would be an improvement, but there was a problem.

"The city can't build these things and maintain them and run them on [its] limited resources," Johnson says. "Urban institutions have got to find alternative funding."

Fortunately, he knew someone he could turn to: Chuck Brady, then CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond. Brady and Johnson first met when they were roommates at a leadership retreat in 1998.

"We got to form a personal, friendly relationship there," Brady says, "which went a long way to [make it] easier for him to call me up as a friend and say, 'Hey, I need your help here.'"

Brady enthusiastically signed on to Johnson's idea.

"When Bill approached us about putting a Boys and Girls Club in this particular community, we were real interested to see how we could go about making a partnership to make this possible," he says.

The project—and the partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs—was also an easy sell to the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, which controlled the Providence Park site. Several years earlier, when a period of budgetary belt-tightening had threatened to close five city recreation centers, Department Director Dinesh Tiwari contracted with Boys and Girls Clubs to run the centers. That arrangement reduced operating costs by 50 percent and saved the centers, Tiwari says.

Tiwari's department greenlighted the use of Providence Park for the new recreation facility but was only able to offer $250,000 toward what turned out to be $800,000 in construction costs. To make up the difference, Johnson, Brady and Tiwari looked to the private sector. Capital One, one of Richmond's largest employers, matched the city's $250,000 in return for naming rights, while various smaller donations covered the remaining $300,000.

These gifts put construction costs for what would now be called the Capital One Club in the black, but the question of how to fund about $120,000 in annual operating costs remained open. That's when Johnson and Brady pulled out a map and decided to get creative.

"We typically look at drawing kids from a mile radius around [a] facility," Brady explains. As it turned out, the site for the new club was less than two blocks away from the boundary between the city and neighboring Henrico County. "So, when we put a compass on a map and drew a mile diameter, we found that we would be serving a lot of kids in neighborhoods that were in Henrico County," he says.

Johnson contacted his counterpart Frank Thornton on the Henrico County Board of Supervisors. Since the center would serve youth from both jurisdictions, Thornton says he quickly saw that a cross-jurisdictional partnership only made sense.

"Just because we are two different jurisdictions has nothing to do with where children go and congregate," Thornton says. "It's an imaginary line, as far as they're concerned."

Convincing his constituents to sign off on spending county money downtown turned out to be relatively easy as well.

"I don't think that we had any major obstacles with this particular initiative," Thornton says. "I was thinking that some might be created, but I didn't see them."

Looking back, Thornton isn't surprised that his constituents saw value in the project. After all, he asks, "What is more redemptive than a Boys and Girls Club, where you are molding character for the future? It's an investment that is really priceless."

As for the children, the club has 182 members so far. Of these, Club Director Jerome Levisy estimates that he sees a core group of 50 on a daily basis, with around 150 stopping by once a week. Most of the regulars are between 9 and 14 years old. The club's offerings include snacks and meals, Boys and Girls Clubs' well-known character-building programs, organized sports, social time, and the opportunity to meet and get to know adult role models.

Reflecting on the partnership that made all of this possible, as well as the turf issues and jealousies that can sink projects like this one, Tiwari argues that youth service agencies and organizations can't afford to be territorial.

"If you have the philosophy that you are a facilitator, not a provider," Tiwari says, "then you are open to exploring new ways to fulfill needs."

Johnson couldn't agree more.

"That's the only way it's going to work," he says. "It has to be a shared interest, and when you talk about the conflict between urban vs. suburban, especially when you share jurisdictional lines where people don't necessarily adhere to those lines, no political jurisdiction can really do it all alone. We are interdependent."

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