Ralph Capps, President and CEO
Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs
Recently, I visited Ralph Capps and his team in Raleigh, N.C., where he’s president/CEO of the Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs. A Club kid from Elizabeth City, N.C., Ralph's an icon of the Boys & Girls Club Movement. He’s worked solely at Clubs since graduating college in 1967, including the last 40 years in Wake County. In that time, he’s grown the organization from a single unit to seven Clubs that impact over 4,000 kids a year. In this guest blog, he shares insights garnered from nearly 50 years of serving young people.
Questions like these are often posed to those of us who have been in the Boys & Girls Club Movement for longer periods of time. Before I get to the heart of my remarks, here are my succinct answers to the questions noted above.
- Youth bring their experiences to the Club and today’s youth bring different experiences than those of decades past; they still respond to meaningful relationships with caring adults.
- The Movement gets better as we become more knowledgeable not only about young people but also about development of both resources and leaders.
- Today’s Club professionals are better educated and better trained than those of yesteryear; they also come into the Movement at a time of high expectations and are very comfortable operating in this environment of accountability.
- Lastly, my career has spanned five national presidents and each one has advanced the Movement; each was ideal for the times in which they served.
I feel as if my career has been blessed by two factors – the period in which I have worked and the professionals who have served and continue to serve as inspirations to me.
I started my professional career in 1967, a time when many Clubs in the South had just begun the task of integrating their programs. I remember naively taking integrated basketball and wrestling teams to other Clubs that had an unwritten rule of “Whites Only” and wondering why their staff was not too friendly to us. Most importantly, I witnessed change in the attitudes of many Club professionals who continued to put young people first, regardless of color of skin.
In the late 1980s came the decision to open our Clubs to female members. For a professional who had spent his entire career in Boys Clubs, the opportunity to serve girls was an exciting challenge. In Raleigh, we opened the Girls Club, which is still fully operational, and converted the membership of our Wake Forest Boys Club to a co-ed program. Shannon Harrison, the director of the Raleigh Girls Club, was also the first female to join the Wake Forest Club.
Like many states North Carolina, experienced a tremendous growth in the Hispanic population in the late ‘90s and first decade of this century. Several years ago we had the opportunity to open a Club that serves primarily Hispanic youth. While still a work in progress, it has been rewarding to see the impact of this Club on the community that it serves.
The three great social movements of the past 40 years and I have been fortunate to be a part of them all! Is this a great job or what?
Add to the equation the fact that I have had the opportunity to work with and observe many great Club professionals. From the giants in the Movement, I learned how – and how NOT – to do my job. I had the chance to observe how these leaders welcomed young professionals into the Movement, how they “grew” to take on greater responsibilities as their organizations expanded or they accepted positions as regional or national staff. From those working to be giants in the Movement, I am inspired daily by their energy and commitment. As one of our young professionals says “this job is a lifestyle.” And what a lifestyle it is!
Again, I ask, is this a great job or WHAT?