Hometown: Springfield | Twitter: @benverharris
Take Note: We’re not the only ones impressed by Harris’s work. In October, she received the inaugural John Alesch Outstanding Program Staff Award from Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest/Northeast region. This May, she and her team took home two highly coveted national awards from Boys & Girls Clubs of America for general excellence and for a program about confronting personal bias.
When Brandy Harris hears about something that can improve the lives of local youth, she immediately rolls up her sleeves and gets to work. That’s how the 31-year-old developed a nationally recognized set of programs about opioids for Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield and successfully pitched a second role for herself as director of programs for the organization’s four local clubs.
“My childhood and my experience drive me. I could have gone one way, and I worked really hard to not go that way. I want to make sure no kid ever feels out of place because of their circumstance or their experiences or their upbringing. The moment I fell in love with the Boys & Girls Club was when I saw my personal experiences were no longer hindrances, they were ways for me to connect with kids and to keep them safe.
“When we first opened [the Sertoma] unit in 2015 [at Sherwood Elementary School], we’re like, ‘We’d be lucky to have like 100 kids.’ A lot of people assumed south-side kids don’t need as much of a club as north-side kids do. But there are no lines in Springfield where kids need you. They need you everywhere. They just need you in different ways. We were full after the first month of opening. It just kind of shows you that everywhere in Springfield kids need opportunities like this.
“My dream is [to have] more models like this unit, where you’re half club space, [half school]. The model works incredibly well, and the partnership with Springfield Public Schools has been a dream. I’d love to see a teen center dedicated to 13- to 18-year-olds, a safe place for them to come that’s open late. And I would love for more people to understand truly who we are and what we do. A lot of people associate Boys & Girls Club with swim and gym. We’re so much more than that.”
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