From Member to Mentor: Passion for his community drives Flint, Michigan Boys & Girls Club CEO to address new challenges with new opportunities
When at the age of 10, Tauzzari Robinson first walked into the Orrville Area Boys & Girls Club in Ohio, he had no prescient moment that he would one day rise to be the organization’s CEO in Flint, Michigan but he did realize he had found his community. Raised by an encouraging, involved single mother, Tauzzari had been participating in many extracurricular activities including chess and martial arts clubs but it wasn’t until he was one of the 100 or so members of the Boys & Girls Club, taking advantage of programs including photography, athletics, volunteering and mentoring, that Tauzzari found his second home. Even at such a young age, he recognized the club’s ability to ground its members and positively impact their lives, his included. Interestingly, he says, it was working his first job there as the organization’s coat check attendant, making two dollars an hour, that he truly fell in love. Tauzzari’s larger commitment began after graduating from the University of Toledo with a degree in psychology when, while sleeping on a friend’s couch trying to figure out what to do next, he decided to approach non-profit organizations for a job. After interviewing for a school based Boys & Girls Club in Chicago, he was hired as a part time program development specialist and who would also work with the kids there. Soon after, Tauzzari realized the job didn’t feel like work at all. It was a passion, a calling, and Tauzzari knew his community had become a career. In 2013, Tauzzari continued his own education receiving his Masters in Public Administration from the University of Michigan-Flint. Over the last 13 plus years, he has been dedicated to promoting the Boys & Girls Club organization as a solution to community problems that still exist, not only in Flint but in so many other towns and cities.
Evolve Strategic Communications had a virtual sit down with Tauzzari to learn more about the Boys & Girls Club of Flint, the ongoing challenges there, the impact of Covid-19 on the community and new initiatives the club is introducing for its members.
Evolve: What you are seeing in your community of Flint, Michigan and how has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the children and families in your area?
TR: The Pandemic has really shined a light on the inequities in our community. Challenges specific to education are the lack of WiFi and devices impacting kids’ ability to conduct remote learning. We also see that parents are feeling the strain of not being able to support their children because of their own learning curve with the technology, or due to being distracted by their own jobs and taking care of childcare related issues.
Flint struggles with other infrastructure related problems including being a food desert with no full service supermarket in the area. Transportation is a problem for families and many can’t even take advantage of centers where meals are being served. The water contamination issue in Flint has attracted attention and support from government and other non–profit organizations so there is an existing support infrastructure here which helps, but we know that other communities suffer as we do with similar issues, and have less attention than Flint. The ongoing strain has to be addressed.
Evolve: Talk to us about your relationship with the Loyalty Foundation and your plans for offering summer learning experiences?
TR: The Loyalty Foundation, along with other community partners, has come in to fill the gaps in a grassroots capacity to address the technology and e-learning issue. We are enormously grateful for all of our partners like the Loyalty Foundation. The extended network has a total of 10,000 members that we serve. Through the power of collaboration with other organizations such as the YMCA of Greater Flint, Sylvester Broom Empowerment Village and other youth service organizations in the Greater Flint community, we’re expanding the distribution channels we have to deliver to our membership.
We are largely funded by donations as well as local and state government grants to be able to offer these programs for free and we are grateful to the Loyalty Foundation who came in to deliver computers to our kids and provide not only devices, but also a plan for online education. The Loyalty Foundation summer coding program will enhance and support our other virtual online summer class offerings. The game design class rounds out our curriculum nicely. This serves as both a pilot program and a plan that we can continue to implement for after school programs or to address additional shut downs and/or vacation breaks, etc.
Evolve: What do you hope to instill in the members of the Flint Boys & Girls Club by introducing coding and game design to kids?
TR: Having a technology based introduction to coding through the Loyalty Foundation and their partner Scholar Stems is an excellent addition to our curriculum. We look forward to our membership taking advantage of the resources we have to offer and to spreading the word through our partners that these classes are available this summer. For me, it is all about the kids and the community.
Sandra De Novellis