Chris Harris-Wimsatt, New CEO & Longtime Supporter of the BGC

Chris Harris-Wimsatt isn’t new to the Boys & Girls Club. After joining his local Club in Raleigh, North Carolina, the day after his sixth birthday, he was hooked, rarely missing a day from then on. In describing his experience and the impact at the then called Boys Club, he simply said, “the Club gave me life.” From a young age, Chris felt right at home at the Boys Club. He felt cared for and loved. He felt supported in whatever he choose to participate in. The staff brought meaning to a young man’s life and created a bond that was both meaningful and life-changing. 

Chris went on to win his Club’s Youth of the Year competition and in 2006 was inducted into the Club’s Hall of Fame. During a Christmas party, Chris was approached by a board member inviting him to get involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo. Who knew that by proudly displaying his achievements at the Club in his home, Chris’ future would be forever changed. Chris served on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo Board of Directors for seven years. He served as the Secretary, Vice President, President, and Past President.

When Bob Ezelle announced his retirement, Chris was Board President. He formed a search committee dedicated to finding the best replacement possible and finding someone who would continue the good work the Club does. At the end of  the search time, the committee reached out to Chris after weeding through the 118 candidates, asking him what it would take for him to replace Bob. Chris, working at Western Michigan at the time, wasn’t quite sure of taking on the position. He felt as though his work with foster care youth at the University still needed attention. Being a man of great religion, Chris prayed and really let God speak to him and to where he would fit best. In the final moments, as Chris waited to give his response to the committee, he prayed one last time, and accepted the position. Though the process was stressful, Chris felt as though he had made the best decision. “It’s an amazing feeling being able to give back to an organization that gave me everything. I am excited to come to work each and every day,” Chris said with a smile on his face. 

As the new CEO, some of Chris’ goals are to create a strategic plan that will be centered around how the Club will look in 2025, and how the organization can help move us there. He also wants to improve the infrastructure of the Club. The Club as a facility has strong bones, but even strong bones need a coat of new paint once-in-awhile. Chris is looking to incorporate youth voice into more programming and projects the Clubs does. Our Boys & Girls Clubs won’t be what it is today without including the youth it serves. By letting the youth discuss, plan, and create their ideal Club helps instill them power and confidence. Another goal Chris has for the Club is to diversify the financial planning of the Club. It is very important to find sustainable funding for the Club. With a wide variety of funding, the Club will be able to provide more to the youth it serves. Lastly, Chris hopes to continue having the Club use community organizations as partners. It should never be a competition between organizations with similar missions, but how can we come together to better serve the community. one organization can help another one out, and at the end of the day, continue to serve the community.

Going forward, Chris wants to remind the community that the Boys & Girls Clubs is yet another pillar that can help the youth of this community succeed. The Club will continue to support and provide opportunities for all youth, focusing on the needs of our most vulnerable. As soon as a child enters the Clubs doors, he/she is a Boys & Girls Club member. All youth will be forever welcomed and supported at the Boys & Girls Clubs. 


Retirement of Long-Time Leader, Bob Ezelle

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Robert Ezelle, Kalamazoo County’s longest-serving nonprofit executive, retired at the end of 2016.

The lifelong Kalamazoo resident has served children at the Boys & Girls Clubs for 40 years, more than 30 of those as Executive Director.

 

Growing up, Bob spent his days at Kalamazoo Public Schools and his nights at Lake Farm for Boys, which is now Lakeside Academy. Lakeside was then a home for boys without parental figures or permanent residence. While at Lake Farm, Bob found strength, understanding and support in Clarence Dooley, the Executive Director. Affectionately called Pops, Clarence took Bob under his wing and kept him on the straight and narrow. Clarence showed Bob the impact and influence a mentor can have on the life of a young person.

Bob attended Loy Norrix High School, where he excelled in athletics, earning a football scholarship to attend Western Michigan, where he also ran track. His football prowess presented him with the opportunity to play professional football, but a serious neck injury extinguished his NFL plans.

Reflecting on his relationship with Clarence Dooley, Bob looked for an opportunity to get involved in the lives of young people. A year as a 1st grade teacher affirmed that he enjoyed working with children, but he found more value in the mentoring aspect than in the instructional aspect.

That’s when he began his tenure with the Boys & Girls Clubs. He worked aside Executive Director Dick Milne, helping out in the gym, learning different programs and then assuming the Executive Director role when Milne retired.

Bob has made it his mission to instill a sense of worth and value in the each of the Boys & Girls Clubs members that have come through the doors over the past 40 years. His greatest joy has been watching members develop a never-give-up mentality, and utilize it to bring themselves success in life. Additionally, Bob is proud of the partnerships the Clubs have created in the community and is grateful for the support his family has given him to dedicate so much of his life to his mission.

Bob met his wife Cynthia in his final year at Western Michigan University. They have two adult children. His daughter, Heather, lives in Southern California and his son, David, is a Probation Officer in Kalamazoo.