Boys and Girls Clubs

Executive Resigns In Shake-Up at Struggling Group

Will A. Gunn described his departure from the organization as a
Will A. Gunn described his departure from the organization as a "negotiated resignation." (James M Thresher - Twp)
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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The leader of a prominent Washington area youth organization resigned as the group struggles with a multimillion-dollar deficit and seeks to redevelop four of its properties.

Will A. Gunn, chief executive of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, stepped aside last week, less than three years after taking over the organization, which serves poor and working-class youngsters at 21 branches in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Gunn, in an interview yesterday, described his departure as a "negotiated resignation." He said the catalyst for his decision was the recent appointment of George M. Ferris Jr. as chairman of the organization's board of directors. Ferris, 80, who replaced Douglas Eby, is head of Ferris, Baker Watts, a Baltimore financial brokerage firm recently bought by Royal Bank of Canada.

In discussions with board members, Gunn said, he learned that Ferris's role would be broader and more active than Eby's.

"I never received that request -- 'Will you leave?' " Gunn said. "They want to make a change in the way the organization is run."

Community leaders criticized the organization last year after Gunn said it would seek development proposals for four properties, including Eastern Branch on Capitol Hill, its oldest facility, and its Georgetown club, Jelleff.

The Boys and Girls Clubs have faced mounting financial pressure in recent years as enrollment has declined at some branches and its deficit has grown to more than $3 million a year. In August, the organization unsuccessfully sought $3 million in funds from the D.C. Council.

The Boys and Girls Clubs is reviewing several proposals for Eastern Branch, which it shut down last summer. Although Gunn declined to specify the nature of the proposals, he said none included building housing on the site.

The group also plans to solicit bids for Jelleff and branches in Congress Heights and Columbia Heights. "I set the stage; someone else gets to close," he said.

Denis James, chairman of Jelleff's board, said the organizational shake-up is "an opportunity for a new direction and a chance to back off a failed policy."

"I don't want them to get rid of the properties," he said.

Ferris said he plans to redevelop the four parcels, including Jelleff, which is on a prime parcel just off Wisconsin Avenue in upper Georgetown.

"We have not made any final decisions on that, but I think that is probably what needs to be done to get more utilization of the assets," he said. "It's very valuable land."

Ferris also said he will lead fundraising efforts for the organization, taking advantage of connections he has made with foundations, companies and wealthy individuals.

His top priority, he said, is to "stabilize the finances of the clubs and eliminate any deficit in 2009."

"I believe we will be able to close the deficit without closing any other clubs," he said. "That's my objective. I may not be able to succeed, but I'm going to try."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company