Jennifer Weiss of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards.
Describe your organization
Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County currently serves 6,600 members in 40 Clubs in Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Windsor, Guerneville, Monte Rio, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma and Marin County. We open our doors every day in elementary schools, middle schools, affordable-housing complexes, and even juvenile hall with a mission to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as caring, productive, responsible citizens.
While focusing on establishing academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character in the youth we serve, we strive to ensure that the clubs provide caring relationships with adults, high expectations from others, and opportunities for meaningful participation.
The vast majority of the youth we serve are from low-income homes where English is the second language. We bring hope and opportunity and strive to create generation-changing outcomes. We are proud to be there for youth before and after school and during the summer. In addition to running over 150 programs, we serve over 500,000 meals each year.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Among other things, I am primarily a mother, wife, daughter, friend and professional. As a reserved person, I keep a small tight community. Unlike many of my peers, I am not a natural extrovert and will never be seen reaching for the spotlight; making recognitions like this one uncomfortable for me. I love to be in the background. I am energized by solving challenges, reaching goals and helping others grow and succeed. I am very reliable, loyal and honest.
I am passionate that my time be used as efficiently as possible to make a difference, particularly for youth. It’s been an honor to grow our organization into one of the largest & best Boys & Girls Clubs in the world; pretty cool considering how small our county is relative to many big cities across the country. In addition to Boys & Girls Clubs, I am proud to serve on the board of TLC Child & Family Services, who do many incredible things for kids, not the least of which is foster care to adoption. My husband, Jason, and I adopted our daughter through them three years ago, permanently ending her four years in foster care.
I grew up in Ohio and Florida, making California home in 1993. I loved living in San Francisco and also think the North Bay is a great place to raise our kids. For our kids, we value education and opportunity and love spending time watching their sports and other performances. My son is a freshman at Cardinal Newman, and my daughter is in the sixth grade at Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School.
What is your role in the organization?
As CEO, it is my role to be the chief advocate for vulnerable youth in Sonoma County, and now Marin. I lead our team to understand the needs facing those who need us most and to find the opportunities to provide the solutions with the goal of life-changing outcomes. It is my role to recruit and motivate the very best team, both professionals and volunteers, who will stand with me to live our organizational values of “make it happen, commitment to excellence, attitude of abundance, and integrity and respect.”
What achievement are you most proud of?
We have consistently expanded our services and impact over the last nine years. I am proud that we have expanded with longevity in mind and have made smart financial decisions. If we experience an unexpected funding set back, and we have at times, we are able to weather that so that youth do not have to feel the impact.
What is your biggest challenge today?
Since August, we have expanded to serve youth in Petaluma and Marin. This has stretched us to learn new ways of operating effectively, because our club in Marin City is not right around the corner. We will have to continue to adapt if we are dedicated to serving those youth as effectively as we serve the youth at our other 39 locations.
Our biggest challenge on a daily basis is always finding enough of the very best people to do this work alongside us. I would like to have more effective and affordable tools for recruiting.
What is the next major project either underway or on the horizon?
We are preparing to launch a capital campaign to build a flagship club in Roseland. With more than 20 clubs in Santa Rosa that are co-located in schools and in juvenile hall, we would also like a place to call our own.
How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?
I think that where services won’t be diminished, organizational consolidations are really effective. I imagine that with a tight job market, more organizations will better realize their missions if they partner up to eliminate some overhead and send more dollars directly to services.
Most admired businessperson outside your organization
When I was 21 years old, Don Fisher, the founder of Gap, became a mentor to me. I have always remembered the generosity he showed me and aspire to be as available and invested in other younger professionals as he was with me.
Most want to meet: I would like to meet the world’s leading authority on Desmoid tumors, a rare disease that represents less than .003 percent of cancers. There is little research and no known cure, and I would like to learn from that person and help.
Stress-relievers: I like to spend quiet time alone as well as lots of time with my family and friends. I like long walks, particularly love walking around and around at Spring Lake. I read a lot of fiction, but I can never remember the name of the last book I read, so I am not that great at giving recommendations.
Favorite hobbies: I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel a lot. This summer we took our two kids on planes, trains and automobiles to 19 states from Texas to Maine. So fun.
Social media you most use: Facebook and Instagram
Buzzword from your industry you hate the most
Well, “hate” is such a strong word. I don’t like when our industry is referred to as charity. I run a business with the same challenges as the next guy. I also feel like the youth we serve are not responsible for their vulnerability. They need a hand up, one I was born into, not a handout.
Typical day at the office
Most days I will have some sort of a check in with each executive to see how I can support their work in moving forward. I will likely also have a call or two with board members who are advancing some element of our philanthropy. Beyond that, the bulk of the days aren’t typical. In growth mode for nine straight years, we are tackling new challenges all of the time.
Best place to work outside of the office
With 40 locations in 10 communities, I have the opportunity to work in a lot of great spots outside of our office. I have to say though that I am always happy to host a meeting on my back deck at home.
Words that best describe you: Honest, open, direct, determined, tenacious