In 1994, Kathy Haggart got a call from the police. One particular area in Bellevue was experiencing an alarming rash of juvenile criminal activity, and they thought she might be just the person to help. The aerobics fanatic and mother of two young boys may not have been the obvious choice to some, but the police knew she had the power to change lives.
Not long after that call, Haggart, who is now the chief executive officer of the local chapter of the Boys & Girls Club, came up with a solution in the form of a refuge of sorts for unsupervised teens. "It was a tiny computer center," says Haggart. "A real magnet for teens."
Of course, things didn’t change overnight. The new hard drives in the computer center were stolen, although later returned. After all, it was the ‘90s; hard drives weren’t in high demand, or in any demand really. But Haggart continued to go to bat for the center, and her perseverance eventually paid off.
Juvenile crime soon dropped 33 percent in that area. "Trouble seems to happen between the times of 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.," says Haggart. "Offering activities and after-school homework or tech support seems to help." Seeing the positive impact the clubs’ offshoot sites were having for teens, Haggart decided to push for more in public housing areas. Three more were added. Today, there are 13 sites around Bellevue, with a building renovation plan for the teen center next door to the headquarters on 110 Avenue.
Learning from her own family, Haggart realized that keeping youngsters active and engaged in positive activities is key to keeping them out of trouble. As a longtime member of the Bellevue Club (she jokes, "We basically joined before it even opened."), she has kept her own family active. But she knows not everyone is so lucky. So part of her mission has always been to bolster several of the Boys & Girls Club’s supportive programs—including the largest athletic program in the country. For example, "Be Great Graduate" tackles the drop-out rate in Bellevue and the reduced or free lunch program feeds 6,000 kids throughout the year.
But keeping kids engaged is not the only challenge Haggart faces at her job. Programs of this magnitude cost money—a lot of it. This is where Haggart falls back on her marketing background. After spending several years as an advertising supervisor for Safeway—where she says she learned to describe a pork chop six different ways—she now puts those skills toward fundraising. This is especially important because in 2002 government funding for the club completely stopped.
"The community was great; it has always been great," Haggart says. "We struggled for awhile, but then we went to the corporate community and the board of directors." With several major companies’ headquarters in Bellevue, the club was in good shape. Microsoft, Nintendo, and several other big corporate names jumped in feet first to financially support the mission of the club. With three major fundraising events a year, tremendous community involvement, and a high-powered and caring board of directors, the Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue has continued to thrive.
But fundraising does not come without its challenges. "The biggest marketing roadblock for me is Bellevue’s reputation," Haggart explains. "Most think of it as a place of privilege, but there are 11,000 kids involved in the Boys & Girls Club in Bellevue, and the need is great."
With the 11,000 club members, Haggart needs all the help she can get. The impact made wouldn’t be possible without the 25 full-time staff, 75 part-time staff, and the 1,400 volunteer coaches in the athletic programs. "There’s a need, and we’re not done," Haggart says. "The relationships are the most meaningful because many of the kids haven’t heard encouraging words from anyone. It’s so simple, but having the staff and volunteers just tell the kids ‘you can do that’ is instrumental in their success."
Currently, Haggart focuses most of her time on planning the renovation of the outdated downtown club. Talking to donors, attending city council meetings and speaking with architects and builders now takes up most of her day. So instead of being at step aerobics, Haggart is now often found at meetings. "It went from tennis and aerobics to donor meetings at Polaris," Kathy says. "It’s my office away from my office."