John Stephens has made an incredible contribution to the Boys & Girls Club movement, particularly in Maury County but across the state as well. In 1999, the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County was a newly chartered, struggling young Club serving about 40 youth per day. John Stephens was recruited to the Board of Directors and jumped in with both feet, quickly becoming one of the most passionate and active Board volunteers and eventually serving as Board Chairman. In 2006, it became apparent that the Club was really struggling and the Executive Director at the time, though well meaning, was in over his head. The Board of Directors reached a decision that someone had to be brought in to truly lead the organization and perform the functions of an Executive Director, or the organization would ultimately fail. Because of his passionate commitment to the kids and the mission, at the age of 68 John volunteered to leave retirement and take on the position of Executive Director pro-bono for 12-18 months until the organization could raise enough money and identify a candidate for the position. When the Board of Directors met with BGCA leadership, they learned that the Executive Director position must be a paid position. John offered to work for just $25,000 per year—half the recommended salary of the Executive Director position.
John then proceeded to put in 12 hour days, every day, doing everything in his power to transform the organization. He called on all of his old business contacts; building an enviable donor base for the organization. As he would say, “you just get hooked on this place.” He fell in love with the Club and came to appreciate the mission even more deeply than he had as a Board member. Twelve to eighteen months turned into eight years of leading the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County. Under John’s leadership, the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County has grown from serving just 40 youth to being at maximum capacity with 150 youth per day and serving 300 per year. The once struggling organization, though one of the youngest Clubs in the state, is now an award-winning Club that regularly takes home program awards each year from the Boys & Girls Clubs in Tennessee.
During John’s term as Executive Director, the organization has: implemented a tutoring program that regularly results in over 90% of tutored youth making gains in every academic subject area; launched and grown a successful annual campaign that has been recognized by the Boys & Girls Clubs in Tennessee as a model for other organizations; grown its budget sevenfold; recruited a prominent Board of Directors that was recognized as the highest performing board in the Southeast Region by BGCA in 2010; secured a historic $400,000 three-year grant as the “prevention” partner on the City of Columbia’s Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction grant, breaking new ground as a Boys & Girls Club by taking kids out of the juvenile court system as an alternative to court-ordered community service; quadrupled average daily attendance; developed partnerships to secure a Community Development Block Grant to renovate an 18,000 square foot building, turning it into a jointly occupied Boys & Girls Club/Head Start site; and finally, opened the organization’s second location in this new building on May 28, 2013, giving the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County the capacity to more than double in size over the next 24 months.
Simply put, as many have said, there would not be a Boys & Girls Club of Maury County if not for John Stephens. However, John’s contributions do not stop with Maury County, as he has also served as Vice President of the Boys & Girls Clubs Tennessee Alliance, member of the “Top Ten” corporate solicitations committee, member of the Youth of the Year planning committee, and many other roles benefitting Clubs across Tennessee. He brings to the movement a wealth of knowledge gleaned from decades of experience managing multi-milliondollar manufacturing firms, energy and drive for the cause that would be the envy of men half his age, and most importantly, an unparalleled passion for changing kids’ lives. John believes so strongly in the mission that he and his wife, Jane, are personal members of the Jeremiah Milbank donor society. Despite all this, John insists to everyone he knows that the Club has given him so much more than he has given to the Club in ways that are beyond measure. His passion for the Club regularly brings tears to his eyes and to those of anyone to whom he speaks about what the Club does for the kids of Maury County.
John was a recipient of the prestigious national Points of Light Award in 2000 for his efforts to improve the lives of Maury County citizens. This highly selective honor has only been bestowed upon 5,000 individuals from across the country to date. This honor is awarded to individuals who find innovative ways to meet community needs through efforts which often lead to long-term solutions and impact social problems in their local communities. He has also been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Columbia NAACP chapter, Volunteer of the Year Award from the Maury County Alliance, and the 1997 Sam Walton Business Leader Award. John, a respected and active community leader, continues to be actively involved in the Kiwanis Club of Columbia. He serves on the Boards of the Workforce Development of South Central Tennessee, Mediation Center, Sigma Phi Epsilon TN Alpha Scholarship Foundation, Sigma Phi Epsilon TN Alpha Housing Corporation, and the Tennessee Senior Olympics. He is a past Chairman of the Board of the Columbia State Community College Foundation, Vice-Chairman of the Board for Columbia Power and Water Systems, and Chairman of the Maury County Chamber of Commerce.
John’s love for the Club kids and the Club is unparalleled. Beyond that, he also believes strongly in our kids and their potential. He regularly tells people that they are “the best kids in the world.” He also believes that “we have the best cause there is,” which is apparent in his level of commitment to the Boys & Girls Club movement. At 76 years of age, he is still working 12 hour days in a position he does not have to; simply because he believes in the importance of what Clubs do. Not that this is any surprise to those who know him. A successful athlete and basketball star in his youth, John “Butch” Stephens has never lost his stubborn determination and competitive streak. He can regularly be seen shooting free throws with the kids. He still holds the ping pong record at the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County. Many Club members have challenged him, but no one has defeated him yet. There’s always next year!