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Women leaders making a difference

What is now a $4.3 million organization, serving thousands of youth in the Springfield-area, began with one woman, a one-room basement and a dream. In its 85-year history, Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield has had many influential female leaders.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield opened its doors on November 4, 1938, under the direction of Mrs. Jennie Lincoln, wife of Juvenile Judge A.W. Lincoln. Believing in Lincoln’s project, the Commercial Street business Men’s Club agreed to allow her the use of the basement of the Community Building, free of charge. Lincoln’s program first catered to 25-30 boys, keeping them off the streets after school. The organization was named “North Side Boys Club.”

Ms. Jennie Lincoln

Despite early challenges, Lincoln was determined to affiliate the Springfield Boys Club with the national organization. She visited the National Headquarters of the Boys & Girls Club in New York City. Her undeniable grit and tenacity paid off, when a charter was granted on April 15, 1946.

Despite the challenges caused by World War II, persistent Sertoma members joined forces with other Boys Club leaders to build a financial base, elect an official Board of Directors, and establish plans for the future.

Lincoln’s caring spirit and passion for mentoring youth helped pave the way for an organization that would make a difference for years to come. Because of her early dedication, thousands of kids in the Springfield area still have a “home away from home.”

In the early 1960s, Patty Brooks & other founders of the Community Service League (now known as the Junior League) noticed the need for a safe-haven for girls. Brooks was well-known for her unparalleled strength, style and grace. With her help, the Girls Club was established in 1963 to provide a space where girls could build meaningful friendships, gain valuable life skills and learn from caring mentors.

Patty Brooks
Ms. Patty Brooks

Ms.Genevieve Kynion was named the first executive director for the Girls Club and she remained in this role for twenty-one years.

According to news sources, Mrs. Kynion always wanted a house full of children. The Girls Club made this wish a reality. Enrollment for the Girls Club began small, at only 30, but as time went on, enrollment grew to over 300.

In an article written by staff writer Carolyn Jenkins at the time, Kynion is quoted, “I try to make it a home away from home. There’s always someone in my office - playing with jacks or clay. There’s no discipline problems at all.” Kynion was extremely successful at making all of the girls feel safe and loved at the Club.

Mrs. Kynion, a mother at heart, was known for her tall stature, steady demeanor, and her undeniable love for children. "She had this presence about her," said Girls Club alumni, Barbara Jones. According to Jones, Mrs. Kynion had the kind of presence that could silence a room.

Ms. Genevieve Kynion

She worked diligently to make sure each and every child was understood and cared for. "When she opened the Girls Club in 1963, she proved that love has no color, and love has no boundaries," said Girls Club alumni, Sheryl Looney.

Kynion helped lay the foundation for a lasting legacy. Because of the hard work and excellence of Girls Club leaders, when the Boys Club and Girls Club merged in 1991 to form Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield, the organization had all the tools needed to continue providing quality programming for girls. For this reason, BGCS is still helping girls build their great futures today.

Ms. Kynion gathers on the floor with Girls Club members

In 2019, the Club appointed its first female CEO, Brandy Harris. Harris chooses Springfield as her place to create positive change because of her special ties to the community. She moved around a lot as a child, attending nearly a dozen different schools before finally landing in Springfield, MO in eighth grade. A committed Reed Beaver and a loyal Hillcrest Hornet, she would tell you that Springfield is the first place that ever truly felt like home.

Harris is passionate about after-school time, and recognizes the importance of providing equal access to opportunities for all youth. Under her leadership, BGCS operates seven locations: three stand-alone facilities, two combined shared & stand-alone sites, and two school-based sites. Three of these locations were established during Harris’ tenure.

With the opening of the new O'Reilly Unit at Williams Elementary, she said, "To be able to provide a safe space for kids to go before and after school is a dream come true for me, especially in my old neighborhood. We exist to serve the most vulnerable in this community, and that’s exactly what Williams will do."

Ms. Brandy Harris poses with kids at the Sertoma Unit

A fierce advocate for youth, truly passionate about providing equitable access to opportunities for families, eager to spread joy to others, and determined to succeed, Brandy is a true trailblazer.

Serving over 4,000 youth across its seven locations, BGCS is vital to many kids and families in Springfield who need a safe place to go before and after school. Under Harris’ leadership, Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield is committed to doing whatever it takes to help provide Great Futures for Springfield’s youth.

It is this mission and our rich history that continues to drive growth, allowing us to reach more kids more often.

To learn more, visit our history page.

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