By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — For over 118 years, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee has sought to improve opportunities for advancement and success among children and teens ages two to 18. But in today’s technology dominated environment, there are some who feel there is little or even no role for these groups. With so much emphasis on individual entertainment, they argue group activities being held at specific times in brick and mortar buildings don’t have much appeal.
Anyone voicing that sentiment hasn’t met the current CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee, Eric Higgs. As someone who grew up on the South Side of Chicago and spent nearly two and a half decades working in corporate America, Higgs says he wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t see a chance for the group to become a big factor in various communities. He oversees an array of special programs and events at 12 locations across the region.
“I didn’t leave working in the corporate world just to sit around and not be involved in the community,” Higgs told the Tribune during a wide-ranging interview. “Organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs can be instrumental in motivating young people, providing them some direction, helping to change their lives for the better. Those are the things that we’re focusing on now, and are planning to implement through various initiatives.”
While Higgs has been on the job almost a year, the impact of COVID-19 last year delayed the start of some things that he wanted to see happen. Now though, with vaccinations picking up citywide and restrictions being loosened, Higgs sees bigger and better things ahead for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee.
“One of our prime initiatives is Project Learn,” Higgs continued. “We really feel that reaching and inspiring children is one of, if not our, major goal, and this program is designed to do that.” Project Learn’s strategy is to stimulate academic improvement in school by having club members spending their non-school hours engaged in enjoyable, yet academically beneficial, activities. Club staff use various areas and programs to create opportunities for these activities.
They range from leisure reading, writing activities, discussions with knowledgeable adults, helping others, homework help, tutoring, and games (such as Scrabble) that develop young people’s cognitive skills. Project Learn also emphasizes parent involvement and collaboration between Club and school professionals as critical factors in creating the best after-school learning environment.
Another organizational initiative Higgs touts is Club Tech. This is an ambitious, multi-year initiative that provides Boys & Girls Clubs with state-of-the-art software. Through a variety of programs, club members learn how to use basic business software, be safe online, and learn advanced hardware and networking skills. From basic technical skills curriculum to Game Tech (an introduction to video game development and principles of game design, animation mechanics, and software) the program prepares kids to achieve success in school and in their careers.
“I got involved in community service at a young age,” Higgs added. “It’s something I’m passionate about and something that I feel the Boys and Girls Clubs are equally driven to be major players in achieving positive things in our society. It is critical that we reach young people early and show them that they are important and that they can succeed with training and determination.”
While he was raised in Chicago, Eric Higgs was born in Jackson, Tennessee. The holder of a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration, he’s enjoying being a Music City resident along with his wife Jennifer and their three sons. He’s also an active board member of the Urban League of Middle Tennessee and Truckers Against Trafficking, and was a founding leader of a Boys to Men mentoring program for many years when he lived in Wisconsin.
“We’ve got more than 4,700 kids now involved in the Boys and Girls Clubs,” Higgs concluded. “These are critical times and I’m really thrilled to be in this role. I think the years ahead will be great ones for the organization.”
For more information on upcoming events being held by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee, or for locations in various neighborhoods and/or membership information visit bgcmt.org.