By Erin Porteous, CEO

When I sit down to share the origin story of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, I am often met with surprise that is intrinsically bound up with its exact opposite: a sense of both understanding and resignation.

That is because today, our community knows us as Boys & Girls Clubs, but when we began our journey to serve Denver’s children 60 years ago, we served only boys. Then, we were known simply as the Boys Club. 

By Erin Porteous, CEO

When I sit down to share the origin story of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, I am often met with surprise that is intrinsically bound up with its exact opposite: a sense of both understanding and resignation. That is because today, our community knows us as Boys & Girls Clubs, but when we began our journey to serve Denver’s children 60 years ago, we served only boys. Then, we were known simply as the Boys Club. 

What began as a compassionate effort to provide Denver’s young boys with a safe place free from the perils of the streets grew quickly into a much sought-after membership-based organization. Before long, boys would camp out on the sidewalk in front of our Cope Club, eager to be first in line to receive a limited number of available Club Cards. In the photo below, the anticipation is palpable.

It may go without saying that many of the social and cultural norms of the early 1960’s reflected the idea that girls received their extracurricular education in the home, while boys were more often (though there were exceptions, of course) given opportunities to explore games, sports and outdoor activities. 

The fact remains that, as our first female CEO, I lead an organization that wouldn’t have enrolled me as a member when I was six years old. Because the Boys Club didn’t enroll girls until 1991. I will be honest with you – that idea is unfathomable to me today. Because the Clubs I know today are spaces that are filled with open hearts, diversity and inclusivity. And while I’m certain our founding leaders and staff were similarly motivated, the blind spots are now so clear.  

This is why we celebrate Women’s History Month. The Erin of today may find it unbelievable that we did not admit girls, but my acceptance of that history is what fuels my advocacy for girls and women. It underlines the truth that progress isn’t made simply by reversing exclusionary policies. Instead, it is forged through purposeful and focused advocacy. It is only by seeking authentic understanding of our history that we are able to create pathways towards more expansive and inclusive futures for all women and girls.  

It is vital to remember that today, women like me stand on the shoulders of generations of courageous women who were the visionaries and trailblazers that led to breaking of glass ceilings and shattering of stereotypes. And not just for women and girls, but for people of all ages, races, nationalities, ethnicities, sexual-orientations, creeds and religions. And with that acknowledgement comes an obligation to carry the torch forward, which I accept with fierce gratitude and resolve.

Today, our focus on diversity, equity and inclusion has never been sharper, and the outcomes are at least as crucial as they were during the national civil rights movement, when Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver was born. We must focus our efforts on breaking down barriers and clearing pathways for all our youth members and their families. With the help of experts and a renewed commitment on the part of all staff, DEI is woven into the fabric of our work every day at Boys & Girls Clubs – in all facets of our enrichment programs, sports, leadership activities, and community service. 

I often think of the concept of membership and how it plays out in our Clubs and our communities – and at board meetings and at kitchen tables. The visible and invisible membership cards that we each carry, some that provide access and others that deny it.   

60 years ago, a tangible paper membership card got you in the doors of our Clubs, but only if you were a boy. This was not so long ago in our organizational history. So today we are hypervigilant and relentlessly focused on our future, while acknowledging our past. And the future we are building together is one that requires no card, no prerequisite, no camping out overnight. It is one where young girls lead and have every opportunity to explore, dream and discover. It is unbound and it is incredibly bright.  

Now that’s a Club that generations past, present and future can be proud to be a part of.