The new Boys and Girls Club of Dane County facility in Sun Prairie will get a big boost and a new name thanks to a $1 million donation by local real estate developers John and JoEllen McKenzie.
The facility, set to open in January, will be called the McKenzie Family Boys and Girls Club, after Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson gave John McKenize a tour of the building, the former Peace Lutheran Church near downtown Sun Prairie.
John McKenzie is a member of the board of directors of 365 Media, which operates Madison365.
Johnson announced on Facebook Monday that he’d received a $1 million commitment, but declined to say whom it was from until the Boys and Girls Club board of directors voted to approve a memorandum of understanding, which it did Wednesday morning.
Johnson said it’s the largest single donation from an individual in the club’s history. Others have given similar amounts or more over a period of years, including former Trek executive and Building Brave founder Mary Burke, who is the club’s largest overall donor.
“It just felt right,” McKenzie said in an interview Wednesday. “I just wanted to discuss it with my wife. She came out and we looked at it, and together we believe in where it’s going. And so it really happened in one day. By the end of the day, we made the commitment.”
McKenzie has been a longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club, and the McKenzie and Johnson families have become close. In fact, Johnson officiated McKenzie’s son’s wedding earlier this year.
“We’re probably most enthusiastic about (The Boys and Girls Club) because it does so much good, and any money you give gets into helping people about as efficiently as possible without a lot of overhead,” McKenzie said. “I think all it takes is for somebody to go into a boys and girls club and sees enthusiastic kids wanting to improve their lives and see great staff. And you can’t help but be moved by it.”
McKenzie said he’s especially enthusiastic about the new facility’s “cradle to career” approach — it will be home to an early-childhood daycare as well as after-school programs for youth all the way through high school and, in the near future, a skilled trade center to prepare young people for careers in trades.
“I don’t think enough underprivileged people understand how well-paying these jobs are,” McKenzie said. “We’ve now been talking with the Madison Area Builders Association for the last couple of years and I believe they are going to be a strong partner with us and moving us forward. If you can take a person and really help them compete, coach them toward a career and show them a way … I do believe that is unique. I don’t think this exists in any other of the clubs to this degree. I think over a couple of more years as this unfolds, others will look at it and be inspired.”
The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County purchased the facility in the spring of 2018 and has been working on renovations since. Johnson said the facility will be the largest Boys and Girls Club in Dane County and one of the largest in the state. It will serve about 235 youth and create about 35 jobs, Johnson said.
The City of Sun Prairie has committed about $200,000 in grants and no-interest loans, and Dane County has put in about $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grants. Johnson said the club needs to raise about another $1 million to be able to operate the new facility debt-free.
Johnson said the new club will open in January regardless, but needs community support to avoid paying interest on a mortgage.
“We don’t like to carry debt at the club,” Johnson said. “We don’t have a mortgage on our Allied (Drive) club. We don’t have a mortgage on our Taft Street club and we just believe we’ll be a stronger organization if we don’t carry debt.”
Individuals who’d like to support the Boys and Girls Club can buy a brick at this link. Donors of $100 up to $5,000 will have their names etched into the building for everyone entering to see.
Businesses interested in making donations or sponsoring programs should call Boys and Girls Club of Dane County Chief Development Officer Janine Stephens at (608) 661-4722.
Once it’s up and running, the new club will sustain itself, Johnson said.
“We put together a business model,” he said. “There’ll be a childcare downstairs, so it’ll be a combination of fee for services, grants and contracts, facility rentals. And then we’ll have a McKenzie Family Local Action Council with some probably businesses and community leaders helping to raise money and make sure that we can sustain the operations of the club.”
McKenzie has supported the Boys and Girls Club in a variety of ways, including funding the college education of a Club member who is set to graduate from UW this year and underwriting the salary of Dr. Willie Larkin, who began to develop the club’s skilled trades center.
McKenzie is confident the Sun Prairie location will succeed.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” he said. “I’ve grown very close to Michael and respect him a great deal. And I think having him associated with this and you know, with such and enthusiastic staff, I just have a lot of confidence that this is going to be a great facility.”