Club Story: Recognizing FUN In Virginia

One of the building blocks of the Five Key Elements is Recognition. At Clubs and Youth Centers, we use authentic gestures and encouragement to positively reinforce the good decisions, efforts, and successes of our youth. Recently, I learned about a great recognition idea from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia, so I chatted with Unit Director Jelani Simpson to learn more.

First things first- tell us about your Club!

The James River Club was opened in 2014, and serves around 120 youth per day. Our members come from three counties, and each has its own culture. This makes our Club very diverse, as the kids bring all kinds of different things to the table.

funny faces
“Funny faces count as FUN!” -Jelani

How did you come up with the idea for the “Most Fun” board?

After getting our results back from the NYOI, and meeting with other Unit Directors in my organization, I realized that my Club site needed to work on two indicators- fun and recognition. And not just for the youth, but for the staff as well. I wanted a quick idea that could start to address both.

We’ve always recognized members of the month, youth of the year, and had incentives for Power Hour, but I thought that we needed to start recognizing kids for coming to the Club and having fun! I thought that this might help promote engagement and participation, increasing their sense of belonging. Members would know that even if they aren’t the kid that gets all A’s, they can still be recognized. They love seeing their picture up on the board!


What kinds of things do you highlight on the “Most Fun” board?

What we do is staff goes around to each group and takes photos when we see kids engaged and enjoying the program. It’s that simple. We are a huge supporter of the school system, but when they come here, I don’t want them to feel like it’s just school again. We want them to be comfortable and have a good time, so we are aiming to highlight them actually doing that.

For example, last week I took a photo of three young men who were having a great time playing soccer. I asked them to pose, and they came up with this CRAZY pose! When kids get to come to the Club and do what they like to do, it shows them that we care about them and that their ideas and preferences matter.


You mentioned also increasing recognition for staff. How have you done that?

Our organization recognizes employee of the month, and on the site level I am always sure to recognize staff in our staff meetings. I make them certificates, and let them know that I see the specific things they are doing. I also put photos of staff up on the Most Fun board when I catch them enjoying themselves. When the staff have fun with the kids, they are having a great experience, which helps the kids have a great Club Experience.

That helps build recognition into the culture at your Club, not just a thing that you are doing.

Exactly. It’s been a good bang for our buck for both indicators. I learned from attending the Club Director’s Academy that a successful Club is not just the Unit Director’s ideas, it takes everyone- the staff AND the kids- pitching in to make it happen. I’m a big team player, and want to enable others to share their ideas.


Jelani has been with Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia for 7 years, starting as program staff and working his way up to Unit Director. He LOVES working with people!

How do you increase youth engagement at your Club? What are your best recognition ideas? Contact me so we can share with the Movement! You can comment below, message me on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook, or email me at


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