2020 Dynamic Dozen Top Local Executive: Brandy Harris

CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield

Posted online

Although Brandy Harris first began working at Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield out of necessity, the organization’s mission quickly became her mantra.

In 2011 she moved to Lawrence, Kansas, to be with her now-husband Spencer Harris as he earned his doctorate from University of Kansas. But with the goal of becoming a teacher, finding a job during the middle of the school year was a challenge.

“I literally applied for 62 jobs in Lawrence, Kansas, and got none of them,” Harris recalls. “Not even callbacks.”

Eventually, she got her first response. The city’s Boys & Girls Club wanted to hire her part-time as an Americorp staff member. The job’s pay? Only $300 a month.

“I thought, ‘It’s better than zero dollars a month and I am not above the role, so I will take it,’” she says. “I quickly learned that it is so important to be the absolute best at the job you have because you owe it to the people you serve and others might see something in you.”

Harris also eventually got a full-time job as a special education paraprofessional while maintaining that job, so she was working long days. Despite the busy schedule, she knew she was where she wanted to be.

“I realized just six weeks after working for Boys & Girls Club that it was all of the best parts of teaching and that I was going to dedicate my life to it,” Harris says. “I told myself I was absolutely going to be running a Boys & Girls Club one day.”

Harris admits she didn’t foresee leading one at age 32, but she’s quickly proven that she’s able to take on the challenge. After working her way up from Americorps staff member to unit director and then to director of programs, she became CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield in 2019.

During her first year as CEO, she created a strategic plan and, with the help of her team, successfully increased social media donations by 400% and rose the organization’s operating budget by $300,000.

Recently, she’s demonstrated her flexible leadership abilities. As a result of COVID-19, Harris and her team had to quickly adapt their operations this spring. Now that the organization has had to temporarily close its before-and-after school mentorship and guidance sites, the local clubs have begun offering meals and virtual programming for families.

To date, Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield has provided more than 32,000 meals at three of its sites and recently launched a COVID-19 helpline.

“We’ve been in this community for 81 years,” Harris says. “We’re constantly shifting to meet the needs of people. We’re not complacent and do not settle for mediocrity when it’s time to serve the kids and families who need us most.”

One of Harris’ goals as CEO is to increase awareness of Boys & Girls Clubs outside of name recognition. According to data compiled by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, 96% of Americans know of Boys & Girls Club and recognize the logo, but less than 60% of people know what the organization actually does.

“I would like for people to know that it’s not just a place where kids go before or after school,” Harris says. “It’s not just a building. It is an extension of the classroom. It is a home. It is a place that bridges gaps. It is a safe space that can literally change the trajectory of a child’s life. In fact, 56% of club alumni say that the club literally saved their life.”