2017-12-28 / Around Town

Conversation with Joe Pratt on His Return to the Boys & Girls Club

By Amy Martin

This fall, Joe Pratt was joined at a ribbon cutting celebration of a Cox Technology Center and a $100,000 grant at the Boys and Girls Club by Newport School Committee chair Dave Hanos and School Superintendent Colleen Jermain. (Photo by Joseph T. O’Connor) This fall, Joe Pratt was joined at a ribbon cutting celebration of a Cox Technology Center and a $100,000 grant at the Boys and Girls Club by Newport School Committee chair Dave Hanos and School Superintendent Colleen Jermain. (Photo by Joseph T. O’Connor) When you walk into the CEO’s office at the Boys and Girls Club on Church Street, you’ll find a framed, weathered photo of a little boy climbing a rope. When you turn around you’ll see that boy as a man, now sitting behind the desk as the current CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Newport County.

Joe Pratt has truly experienced a lifelong journey through those hallowed halls beginning as a young boy in the afterschool programs, then as a teen mowing the lawns and cleaning bathrooms, and eventually becoming a counselor. He has lived in Newport his entire life despite a career that’s led him all over the state. Pratt has come full circle back to the club where he learned lessons that carried him through his life, and has dedicated himself to bettering communities and changing paths of thousands of youth.

What is your role at the Boys and Girls Club of Newport County?

I run the club making sure we have a sustainable business model and focus on our three primary goals: to reach as many kids as we can, to keep raising the quality of our programs, and to drive the revenue to support our programs.

How long did you attend the Boys and Girls Club as a child and which activities did you take part in?

I came here after school starting at about 7 years old. My parents worked, so it’s the same story as today. Kids don’t have anywhere to go after school and that’s when they can get into trouble. I went to the club, the camp, all of it. I grew up here.

Do you stay in touch with people from those days?

Oh yes. I have friends that have grown up here at the club who are now business professionals, attorneys, judges. They go to the camp and cut back trees, mow lawns, put docks in. It’s great to have them come back and have an impact here.

What is your favorite local festival?

Jazz Fest. It celebrates what’s unique about Newport. It sets us apart from other communities.

How do you unwind?

Running. It lets me clear my head.

Do you have an annual tradition?

On Jan. 1 we do a Swim for Jim, a good friend of mine that passed away about five years ago. We raise a little bit of money, have a great time with friends and give the money to charities.

How have your previous positions helped you in your current one?

My work at the United Way, my first job, was nonprofit, community fundraising. Then I was in the private sector in higher education at Bryant College. At Fidelity Investments I was on the corporate affairs side, which was all about partnerships, collaborations, becoming a good corporate community citizen. Then I was chief of staff for our current governor [Gina Raimondo] when she was general treasurer. The government sector melds the connection between government, nonprofit, private and corporate.

Who does the Boys and Girls Club serve and what does it offer?

We serve 1,900 members, but we impact 5,500 kids in our community. We charge members $30 a year, but we never let finances be a barrier for the kids and families so we scholarship those in need. The mission of the club is to enable all youth to achieve their full potential, especially those most at risk. We deliver that mission by focusing on three key areas: healthy living, academic readiness, and character and leadership.

What is your vision for the Boys and Girls Club?

It's about serving all youth to enable them to have great futures. The three areas we always focus on are quality, numbers of kids served, and revenue because revenue drives the club. Serve the youth, listen to the community’s priorities, help the community become stronger.

What changes are you the most proud of since you started?

Two items, the collaborative and innovative work we are doing: essential skills, mentoring, partnering with schools and the housing authority. It lets us reach so many more kids and families. The next is our team. We have a talented team of employees.

What projects are currently underway?

We are close to completing three significant projects: the childcare space, the kitchen and the courtyard. We are 95 percent done with the upgrade and renovation of our lower level, which houses our childcare facilities.

The courtyard now is a resurfaced and colorful space filled with recreational items to make fitness fun.

We are working closely with the housing authority on the north end. The Florence Grey Center is the community center for housing authority. We are working with housing and many partners to find out how that facility can best serve the community.

What are the greatest challenges facing the club?

There is so much need here. Newport is an incredible dichotomy: amazing wealth, but staggering amounts of poverty. Sixty-five percent of the kids in the Newport schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Our membership is similar, about 65 percent in poverty. The need is the biggest challenge, and trying to find the resources to deliver solutions to those needs.

You serve adults as well.

We do, during the daytime, the off hours. We have swimming, fitness programs in the pool and the gym, and yoga. We are trying to really see what the community needs and leverage the resources that are here.

What can residents do to help promote and support the Boys and Girls Club to further its growth and success?

We have hundreds of volunteer opportunities across the board, homework help, tutoring, specific programs, coaching, working on the facilities, fundraising and so many more.

The Boys and Girls Club’s success isn’t driven by any one person. It’s a real community effort. We are fortunate to have strong community support, to help us meet the staggering need in our community.

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