The Akron area Boys & Girls Clubs has merged with three other Northeast Ohio Boys & Girls Clubs groups in a move designed to strengthen and grow the organizations serving nearly 8,500 kids in four counties.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve — which has three sites in the East Akron area — is merging with Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, Erie County and Lorain County.

The four groups — with 36 sites offering after-school programs between them — will maintain their existing separate identities.

The total annual budget of the four merged groups — dubbed the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio — is about $11 million.

There are no plans for layoffs and the merger may help fill existing vacancies, said Ron Soeder, who has been named interim president and CEO of the new organization.

Together, the merged groups have 334 employees, 87 of whom are full-time workers.

“This merger gives us the opportunity to serve more kids and develop deeper programming,” Soeder said in a news release.

Soeder will remain in that role while the organization and the parent Boys & Girls Clubs of America search for a permanent leader.

Each local group will retain its identity, and donors will be able to direct money to an individual local group or to the region. The website for the Akron-area group is http://www.wrkids.org, with the “w” and “r” referring to “Western Reserve.”

All four of the merged groups “are financially strong and well-run,” Soeder said. “Combining our forces will enable us to scale our best practices, streamline operations and be more cost-efficient — all to serve and support more kids.”

The combined groups also will be more effective at fundraising, sharing ideas, Soeder said in an interview Monday.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve began in 1984 as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Summit County.

It was one of three urban groups participating in a national demonstration project to test the feasibility of bringing club programs into low-income housing projects. The program was a success and there are more than 400 club sites in housing projects across the country.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve has three club facilities in or near properties of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority in East Akron and serves about 640 young people over the course of a year.

"We feel like there are areas that really need Boys & Girls Clubs in Akron," Soeder said in the interview. "We believe the merger gives the opportunity to grow, and raise funds specifically for Akron," Soeder said in an interview.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland is the oldest of the four groups. It began in 1954, with the first club opening on Broadway in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood. It was established by a group of executives from Republic Steel (now ArcelorMittal) and Cliffs Natural Resources. In 1976, the Boys Clubs of Cleveland began to accept girls, prior to the nationwide move to coed clubs in 1990.

Nationally, Boys & Girls Clubs traces its roots to a boys club founded in 1860 in Hartford, Conn., by three women, Elizabeth Hamersley and sisters Mary and Alice Goodwin. In 1906, 53 independent Boys Clubs came together in Boston to form a national organization, the Federated Boys Clubs.

The organization renamed itself Boys Clubs of America in 1931, and in 1990 it became the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.