A week before the first day of school, the laughter of children at the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso echoed through the center’s halls. Over the summer, the kids had been treated to field trips, a visit from the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball team and activities at the center.
The nearly 90-year-old nonprofit is flying high and preparing to expand its operations to four elementary schools in the Northeast and one in Central El Paso. It serves hundreds of kids every day in some of El Paso’s poorest neighborhoods.
The club’s situation was not as cheery a couple of years ago when it lost its CEO, Joseph Villescas, and chief financial officer, Debrah Rosburg, amid financial turmoil.
But with help from the national organization, a big state grant and the organization’s board, CEO Anthony Tomasheski has put the club back on its feet.
Tomasheski, who became CEO about a year ago, is responsible for the organization’s $500,000 budget. A grant from the Texas Education Agency will provide the nonprofit with an additional $3.3 million over the next three years.
Before becoming CEO, Tomasheski was the director of Special Education Services for El Paso Independent School District.
“People think that our most valuable resource is water, but it isn’t. It’s children,” Tomasheski said. “We just want to make sure that we’re providing them that mentorship, the guidance, the tools and all of those pieces.”
In his office, there’s memorabilia from New York City and a wall-sized photograph of the iconic Flatiron Building.
He calls himself a military brat, and moved all over the country with his family while growing up. But he always wanted to live in New York City, which is why he decorated his office with photos of it.
Tomasheski says he bought the giant photo of the Flatiron Building while working at Schuster Elementary. The reason: to show teachers and staff that the school wasn’t going to close.
“There was discussion of possible closure, and the teachers would come in saying, ‘We’re going to close!’” he said. “I would tell the teachers, ‘You see this picture? It is brand new. It does not fit in my house. I wouldn’t buy this if we were going to close.’”
Tomasheski sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about the organization’s finances, their big expansion plans and El Pasoans’ big hearts.
Q: How did you become CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso?
I was actually in the car when a recruiter called and said, “Can you talk?” I said, “Well, it depends. Is this good news or bad news? If it’s bad news, I can’t talk. If it’s great news, I’m in a good place.”
I had actually just stepped out of a meeting, and the recruiter said, “We would like to offer you the position.” I just thought, “This is it. At the end of the day, this is what it’s about.”
I will tell you, since then, there have been many sleepless nights, but those sleepless nights are great in just knowing and seeing that impact. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year.
Q: Any particular memories that stand out from the past year?
There are so many things that happen on a daily basis because this is a job where you see kids and families walk through the door, and you don’t ever doubt, “Did I make a difference today? Did we help somebody today?”
From simple things like a kid being excited because he can do subtraction where when he walked in the door, he thought life was over because it was so hard. The first thing the kid said to me was, “I’ll never figure this out.”
I have to laugh because I told him, “It’s been 46 minutes, and so 46 minutes ago, you told me you would never figure this out. Now, we’re high-fiving.”
Q: What’s next for the nonprofit?
With this huge grant, we are super excited because we are going to be expanding. We are adding five additional clubs. The majority of those clubs are in the Northeast, so that’s branching out, providing opportunities for an additional 500 children in El Paso.
Another big step for us is we have Club Delta. We’re actually relocating Club Delta to Burleson Elementary, and that’s also going to be huge for us because one of the things that we want to do is we want to make sure that we’re providing opportunities for our kids.
Q: Will you have to find new facilities for the clubs?
They’re inside the schools. Children are part of the club because of the relationships that we build; it’s not necessarily the brick and mortar. It’s a point of pride to be associated with those wonderful schools.
We’re going to have a club at Clendenin Elementary, Crosby Elementary, Logan Elementary, Lee Elementary and Hughey Elementary.
I see it coming together quickly, working in partnership with the school district.
Q: What kind of relationship does the nonprofit have with neighboring community groups?
We’re always looking for friends, believers, heroes – those people who are really interested in joining and becoming a part of this community.
With the grant and the expansion, we’re working with Creative Kids and Kids Excel and the Sylvan Learning Center
We couldn’t do it without the help of the community. Sometimes that’s in the form of the obvious like financial giving, which is very important. We do need that. We couldn’t survive without that. In addition, we need the volunteers who are changing lives every day.
Q: The organization was in financial trouble, and its assets have declined. Can the club get back to where it was before 2013?
There have been a lot of changes between now and 2013. I do not see anything as a setback. I see great things happening for the club.
We were just talking about that whole expansion. We’re more than doubling the staff. We’re more than doubling the clubs. That, to me, is where we are. That’s the bottom line.
Q: Did the community respond to the club’s financial difficulties?
The community has been very supportive because they know the past. Everybody in this community wanted to see the Boys & Girls Clubs succeed because they knew what that meant for children.
In spite of everything that happened in the past, this community knew that we’re not going to give up on this organization.
The support of the community has probably been the biggest blessing and knowing that the community does not want to see these children fail.
It wasn’t easy. I’m not going to tell you that it was. That would be fake news. What I will tell you is it was 100 percent worth it. When we walk out there and you see those kids, you’ll understand why.
Q: Has the club balanced its books?
The club has balanced its books. We are in a great place and moving forward.
Q: Did you revamp the board?
We worked really hard to get some very dedicated individuals that want to make a difference for our community. My board chair is Carlos Lowrey, and he is connected to Food City and really trying to feed the city at a reasonable cost. We have Mauro Monsisvais, who works for EPISD.
We did revamp the board with a new executive leadership team, adding over nine new individuals.
Q: How did you get such a large grant from the Texas Education Agency?
The behind the scenes is that the agency has a good understanding of the importance of after-school programming and realizes if we want to have the greatest impact on kids, it doesn’t end at 3:30 p.m.
My belief is that the TEA realized that this is an opportunity where you have three nonprofits that are getting together to really strengthen children.
Q: Is the national organization, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, going to continue to lend a hand?
Absolutely. National is very supportive. They have been supportive of me since day one. They’re very committed. For them, it’s not just about the organization. It’s about the community and knowing that there’s such a rich history of the Boys & Girls Clubs here. We want to make sure that we continue to get closer to that 100-year anniversary.
Q: What have you done to better safeguard the nonprofit from future financial trouble?
We now work with an outside accounting firm. There are just many additional safeguards that are in place so that the community knows that I am maintaining the fiduciary responsibility that we need to have and there can be peace of mind for many years to come.
Q: What help does the nonprofit continue to need from the community?
I would like to see the community to continue doing what it’s doing: supporting the Boys and Girls Club. Again. El Pasoans have such big hearts that it’s always great to get a phone call when someone says, “We would like to donate school supplies to make sure that every single child has a backpack this year in school.” Those things are important to our kids, but we sometimes take them for granted.
Q: How did you get into education?
I was at university getting my psychology degree, and we had an individual. She came in, and she said, “We’re looking for volunteers that want to work with kids on the Indian reservation.”
I had some time between classes, so I said, “Rather than sit around the quad and do nothing, I’m going to try this.” I went, and it was the most rewarding experience as far as trying to mentor kids and working with kids. That’s the short version. That was my first taste.
Q: How did you end up in El Paso?
Then, I started working for the juvenile probation department while I was going to college in Idaho. My boss had a connection to El Paso. I went through alternative certification, became a teacher for El Paso Independent School District and then assistant principal and principal.
Q: There used to be murals on the building some time ago. Is there any chance that we may see murals again?
I would love for us to see murals here on this building. There’s a huge sense of pride in this community. I know that there have been bicycle tours of the murals of the Segundo Barrio. There are some great things that could be done if we could just find individuals who want to dedicate the time to putting the mural on the building. I would love to see that.