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Boys and Girls Club of Dane County announces major donations to build skilled trades center

New skilled trades program could open next summer and serve up to 200 young people each year.


The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC) announced today a $5 million grant from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, along with the donation of a $1 million building in Fitchburg, to create a major new skilled trades education program and launch a five-year, $35 million campaign to create an endowment to fund all of its educational programming.

BGCDC CEO Michael Johnson said longtime supporter John McKenzie will close on the purchase of the former Thermo Fisher building in Fitchburg next month and donate the building to BGCDC for a new skilled trades education center, including a space to teach entrepreneurship and life skills. Johnson said the club also intends to expand the building to house BGCDC’s administrative offices. Johnson anticipates the building to be about 20,000 square feet when all renovations are complete and it opens in the summer of 2022. Madison-based Findorff & Son will be the general contractor for the project.

A groundbreaking ceremony will take place shortly after the closing, Johnson said.

The grant from Pleasant T. Rowland will fund much of the building’s renovation, and also seed an endowment fund to keep the new skilled trades program, as well as BGCDC’s many other education programs, running “in perpetuity,” Johnson said.

“We are all extremely grateful to Pleasant Rowland and her foundation for this generous gift,” McKenzie said in a press release Monday. “My  family has long admired her as a person who has used her skill, vision, and personal resources to significantly  improve our community in many ways. We are grateful that she would recognize and join our initiative. This  program will change lives, help the community and meet the needs of businesses that have experienced a  shortage of skilled workers.”

McKenzie also funded the purchase of a former church in Sun Prairie, which became the McKenzie Family Boys and Girls Club and opened last year.

Johnson said the club’s precollege programs have been successful, and now it’s time to create programming for young people — especially young people of color — who decide not to go the college route.

“In the last five years, Boys and Girls Clubs have helped 4,500 kids of color graduate from MMSD and go to college. So our biggest challenge is, when John McKenzie brought this idea to us about five years ago, I knew we did not have a career pathway for kids who did not go to college,” Johnson said. “But I know that we can’t do this without a world-class facility. I also know that we can’t do it without having the infrastructure. The case managers, the paying the kids to be in the apprenticeship program, creating the right partnerships, having a full time director and a development officer that can raise money and develop program partnerships with other nonprofit organizations. If that infrastructure is not there the program won’t work. And that’s why we’re going big, because we want to make sure that this is a program that’s going to be around in perpetuity. And I believe the only way you could do that is by building up a strong endowment.”

The endowment campaign will seek to raise $35 million over the next five years to create a fund housed at Madison Community Foundation, so BGCDC could operate all of its education programs on investment income and rely less on annual fundraising.

“We run programs in 11 different schools. And AVID/TOPS (BGCDC’s precollege preparation program) is the largest public-private partnership in the Madison school district. And we’re in Verona, and we want to expand to Sun Prairie, and we can only do that if we build a strong enough endowment. So that’s what the campaign represents,” Johnson said. He said nearly 1,200 people have already committed more than $820,000 toward the endowment.

Johnson said the skilled trade program is important because those jobs in Madison pay, on average, $42,000 per year — and there’s a labor shortage in the field.

“We hear it all the time from private contractors,” Johnson said. “We hear from folks like Findorff. I mean that’s why they were like, we would love the (general contractor) on this. We would also contribute as a company. And then I got an unsolicited email from one of their executives saying, I want to make a significant contribution towards this. We just had another developer who builds homes here in Madison, just raised a significant amount of money for this project because they have the same challenge. Finding kids of color and finding young people who want to get into the trades.”

The online job listing company ZipRecruiter reports an average skilled trade salary of $42,024 in the Madison area, the highest in Wisconsin. Statewide the average salary in the skilled trades is $38,206, according to the report.

Johnson said the club will also partner with the Madison Area Builders Association (MABA) to provide paid apprenticeships for young people in the program.

“(MABA has) committed to raising over $250,000 to help build out the skilled trades space of the building. And their board is all in,” Johnson said. “And then we’re also going to work with them to help coordinate job placement opportunities for kids. We’re going to write grants together that make sure that we can leverage both of our organizations to ultimately connect young people to the jobs in the skilled trade industry.”

Johnson said he hopes the skilled trades program grows as the clubs precollege programs have.

“When we started the AVID/TOPS program, we started with 28 kids at (Madison) East High School, and now we have close to almost 400 kids that go through that program (every) year … I anticipate we’ll probably have the same kind of a trajectory,” he said. “Our dream is to see … 150 to 200 kids go through this program a year, with about 50 or 60 percent of them landing jobs paying $42,000 or more within a year or so.”

Community members can support the endowment campaign by contributing to the club’s first $1 million goal at this link.