Katherine Palmer has been on the job as the new CEO of the Boys &Girls Club of Brown County for four weeks, and she doesn’t mind it when people refer to her as “the new Danny.”

That’s a reference to Danny Willingham, her predecessor who resigned in May 2018 after nearly 20 years as the club’s chief executive officer.

“I do have some pretty big shoes to fill,” Palmer said recently at the Bulletin, accompanied by Boys &Girls Club board president Hank Hunter. “The community really respected the work that he did.”

Palmer – a Mesquite native who is married to Air Temp employee Jared Johnson – graduated from Howard Payne University in 2010 with a degree in social work. She worked for the previous six years as a medical social worker in nursing homes and AccelHealth and has worked as a summer camp counselor, in church nurseries and in daycare facilities.

 Palmer has also been involved with various organizations and nonprofit boards.

Getting to know them

“I am one month in,” Palmer said of her new job, which she began April 1.“I love it. There’s a lot of kids. I’m still trying to learn names. I think I have about half of them down.

“I do have my staff’s names down though. I think it’s going pretty well.”

A meet-and-greet for Palmer will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2, at the club. The community is invited.

The Barn Dance will be May 11 at Three Springs Ranch near Zephyr.

The Boys & Girls Club, at 1701 Avenue L in Brownwood, is an after-school program Monday through Friday that provides activities including a gym and game room, art and computer rooms, a homework room with tutors from Howard Payne University, and a room for activities including meeting with mentors.

During the school year, buses with students arrive at 3:20 p.m. and the club stays open until 6:30 p.m. The club also has a 10-week summer program from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The summer program includes breakfast and lunch.

Club dues are $30 a month per child during the school year, and $50 a week for the summer program.

As of March 31, the club has 91 members and averages just over 70 children a day, Palmer said. It operates with a staff of 13 including seven HPU work-study students.

Challenges

Hunter said the club has faced challenges including financial, the loss of the location where the annual fundraiser Barn Dance had been held, the resignation of Willingham and the loss of board members who were “moving on, moving out. The next torch bearers are now at the table,” Hunter said.

After Willingham resigned, the club entered a management agreement with the Boys & Girls Club of Abilene. Mark Young, CEO of the Abilene club, was on site in Brownwood. “He helped tremendously with day-to-day operations,” Hunter said.

With the hiring as Palmer as the new director, the management agreement has involved into a consultant agreement, he said.

“Everything has progressed beautifully,” Hunter said. “Everything going forward is about the new CEO and what’s gong on with the club and improving services. We have a great governing board of people.”

The club’s short- and long-term goal is “to serve more kids,” Hunter said. He said he’d like to see a Boys & Girls Club in every Brown County school district.

‘What do you know about social work?’

Palmer came to Brownwood to attend HPU, although she was an undeclared major into her sophomore year.

“I always knew I wanted to do something helping people or having some sort of community involvement, and I really was not familiar with social work as a profession,” Palmer said.

She met with an advisor and told him her goals. “He said ‘what do you know about social work?’” Palmer said. “I said ‘nothing.’ So he kind of pointed me in that direction and it made sense.”

Many people think being a social worker means working for CPS, Palmer said. She learned the field of social work is varied. “You have the opportunity to work with any age group, any demographic, any population,” she said.

After graduating from HPU, Palmer stayed in Brownwood.

Last November, Palmer – working as a medical social worker at a local organization – went to work one day and learned her job was being eliminated.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Palmer said. “It was an absolute shock to me that one day I just didn’t have a job any more.”

Palmer found another job, but also learned the Boys & Girls Club was looking for a new director.

“I knew a little about the Boys and Girls Club,” Palmer said. “Hank and I have served on boards together in the past and I knew he was involved with the Boys and Girls Club. I knew it served as an after-school care program. They did summer programs. But all I really knew was that it was a local agency that served kids.”

Palmer talked to Hunter and others about the job and applied.

‘Impact on the community’

“When I decided to make Brownwood my home a little over a decade ago, I made a goal to myself that if I’m here and I’m living here, I want to do everything I can to make this a better place for all of us to live,” Palmer said.

“I’m really excited for this opportunity here and I think I’ll be able to have an impact on the community.”

When children are at the club, Palmer tries to stay out of her office and interact with them. She’s worked at running the snack bar and rotated among the rooms, trying to get to know the children.

On Friday afternoon, Palmer leads what she calls a “pep rally” in the game room, when everyone – including Palmer – gets loud, and children are recognized for accomplishments.

At each pep rally, Palmer comes up with an activity to lead. At one recent pep rally, the activity consisted of a hula-hoop contest.

“She’s high energy,” Hunter said.

He said it’s important to note that “everything we’re doing is built on the legacy of Danny Willingham. He built the program. He built the club.”

Palmer added, “he grew it. He built it all the way up to where we’re at now.”

Upcoming events:

•  Thursday, May 2 – meet-and-greet for new CEO Katherine Palmer, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club

•  Saturday, May 11 – Barn Dance fund-raiser, Three Springs Ranch near Zephyr

Boys and Girls Club board members are Hank Hunter (president), Tim Espinoza (vice president), Tiffany Rumfield (treasurer), Charlotte Huseman (secretary), James Stroope(safety committee chair), Safety Committee Chair, Marisha Stidom (personnel committee chair), – Personnel Committee Chair, Joey Smith (finance committee chair), Carolyn Zapata,, Andrew Chisolm, Josie Pebsworth, Donnie Ivey, Paul Coghlan and Dianne Winn.