City Boys & Girls club hires new leader
I’m really excited about Kat. She’s energetic. She has a lot of new and exciting ideas, and her enthusiasm comes through even on Zoom.
— Board chairman Jeff Fritz
VERGENNES — When members of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes return on Sept. 9 to their Armory Road clubhouse for the first time since March they will be greeted by the club’s new leader, Shelburne resident Kathryn “Kat” Nelson.
The club’s board of directors recently hired Nelson, 33, as its chief executive officer. Nelson is coming off a 13-year career with Camp Kiniya in Colchester and Camp Dudley in Westport, N.Y., most recently as Camp Kiniya’s Leadership Development Director.
Nelson takes over from interim executive director Cookie Steponaitis, who has guided the club since June.
Board chairman Jeff Fritz said there was a competitive field of about a dozen seeking to be the permanent club leader, but that Nelson stood out.
“We had second-round interviews with three very strong and capable candidates,” Fritz said. “Kat really shone because she has a career path, actually, working with children, and she has been very successful at her work at Camp Kiniya. And she was highly and well regarded there. And it was clear to her supervisor and her superiors she was ready for more.”
Fritz said the new title of CEO is more in line with national Boys & Girls Club’s model, and it would emphasize Nelson’s role as the city club’s “chief vision officer” as it seeks to continue the growth it was enjoying before the pandemic struck and build on the good will generated by this spring and summer’s successful meals program.
“It’s time to think much bigger,” Fritz said. “I’m really excited about Kat. She’s energetic. She has a lot of new and exciting ideas, and her enthusiasm comes through even on Zoom.”
Fritz said new titles also go to longtime employee Lisa Davis, now the director of operations, and Steven Maluenda, now its director of programming and development.
Nelson, a native of suburban Chicago whose family moved to Princeton, N.J., as she was entering middle school, will make her first public appearance at a club open house planned for Sept. 8 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the day before up to 20 members arrive for the club re-opening.
But she also intends to show up on Labor Day to familiarize herself with her new workplace.
“I’m just getting excited for jumping in on the 7th,” she said. “I want to be ready and prepared for the open house on Tuesday and Day One on Wednesday.”
Nelson said her love of working with youths began during her athletic career — she was a multi-sport athlete and captain both at her secondary boarding school and then at Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College.
“Initially it became kind of a passion for me in high school,” Nelson said. “My senior year I had the opportunity to captain three different sports and live with the freshmen and sophomores in a dorm. That was the first time I could really see the impact I was having on a younger group, and I really enjoyed the relationships that I made.”
In college a teacher recommended she work summers at Camp Dudley, and when she graduated she began working for Camps Dudley and Kiniya full-time, also moving to Vermont, where she has lived since, including for a couple of years in Vergennes.
More importantly, she had found her calling.
“I can’t see doing anything else except working with kids in some way, shape or form,” Nelson said.
At the camps she steadily assumed a larger role over time.
“I stayed on and had increased responsibilities every year,” Nelson said.
But by 2020 Nelson acknowledged feeling ready for new challenges, and that was when she saw the Vergennes club advertising for a new leader.
“I’d been with the camp for 13 years all told, and have seen it through a lot of change, and have been able to develop the programs there, and feel like they’re in a really good place,” she said.
“And so having the opportunity to work with almost exactly the same age group and sort of a different culture and a new community, that I can have an impact on, and use what I’ve learned the last 13 years at camp to serve a new community, it kind of just jumped out at me.”
Nothing she has seen since has changed that impression.
“It sounds like the club, with the new location and everything, is just getting ready to blossom,” Nelson said. “It just sounds like where they are in their growth and where I am in my leadership, that it just feels like a good fit.”
As well as interpersonal skills, Fritz cited as valuable assets Nelson’s fundraising ability, technological experience, familiarity with online as well as in-person programming, and database management background.
Nelson added that she could bring “my expertise of program development, and also leadership development,” and “experience helping kids to identify their strengths.”
“I think Boys & Girls Clubs in general can provide so much for a community and I want to help make sure people know that it is there for them, especially now even if they haven’t been a part of it yet, this is a great time to learn about the club and see how it can help every family,” she added.
And she could envision herself staying with the city’s youth club for a while.
“I have a lot to learn about the club, and I’m really looking forward to helping devise a strategic plan for the future and steps to how we can get there,” Nelson said. “It very well could be a place that I end being at for a long time.”
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