Amber Newman grew up in Louisiana, but she came to Brazoria County by way of Ghana.
“I went to visit the Nima Schools in Africa,” she said. “I saw so many kids who were poor, but it didn’t matter to them. They were so hungry for education. They wanted something more.”
At the time, Newman worked at the Houston Food Bank, raising money to support its charitable endeavors. Her work was certainly worthwhile, but her visit to Ghana sparked a hunger in her as well. She wanted to work more closely with children, mold young minds and give them the confidence they needed to succeed.
“I told my husband I wanted to do more,” Newman said. “He said, ‘Well what do you want to do? We already do so much to help in the community.'”
She told him she wanted to be the CEO of a small nonprofit, working directly with the people she supported and watching her work make a difference. Newman planned to change jobs in a year or two, but her husband advised her not to wait. If she wanted to make a change, why not start now?
She jumped into the job market and found an opening at Boys and Girls Club of Brazoria County. It seemed perfectly suited to her, a small organization where she could become deeply entrenched in the community and wholeheartedly support the mission.
“I’m very mission-driven,” Newman said. “And it’s for kids, the next generation of the people who will be running this country.”
A preliminary interview was followed by a meeting with the 12-member Boys and Girls Club board. They spoke with Newman about her experience and credentials, but most of all about why she wanted to join the organization.
“I want to level the playing field for all the kids in this community,” Newman said. “I told them that, and told them if they gave me the opportunity, I would hit the ground running. I told them, ‘If you take a chance on me, I’m going to take it, hit the ground running and not look back.'”
That’s exactly what she did. Newman took up the post in December. In that time, the Boys and Girls Club expanded to Sweeny, moved from 18 school sites to 20 and had one of its largest ever summer program turnouts. Newman said a large part of her focus has been familiarizing people with the organization, both those who can support it and those it can help.
“We’re in Angleton, Clute, Lake Jackson and Freeport,” she said. “Now, with us going out to Sweeny, it’s going to be a fabulous thing for the kids.”
This year was the organization’s 45th anniversary, and Newman said she’s looking for 45 more. On an ordinary day, when school is in and the Boys and Girls Club is running after-school programs, she goes to each site to check with site directors that everything is running smoothly. She’ll also check
with principals and kids to make sure they’re satisfied with the programs at their school. Those programs often include games and social time, but kids also can find homework help.
“We help with homework assistance. We know that parents, when they get off work, they’re tired. Some of them don’t even know how to help with the homework,” Newman said. “I have two kids of my own. They were coming in doing math different from the way we were taught. I didn’t want to confuse them with a new way. So how do you help?”
Boys and Girls Club meets the challenge with teacher-approved math tutoring, science experiments and more. In addition to teachers, Newman often meets with representatives considering donating or volunteering for Boys and Girls Club programs. She also interacts with leaders of other local charities that sometimes partner with the organization to help out local kids.
“A lot of my time is spent in the community, trying to figure out how we can serve more kids,” Newman said. “I’m also out looking for donors and fundraisers.”
Newman joked that her dad can vouch for her fundraising ability, since he always used to tell her how good she was at asking for money. These days, though, she has bigger goals than spending money. She has an organization to support and goals to match.
“I want to bring more resources here. I sat down with Mayor Turner (of Houston) and told him that I’m the CEO here and I need his help,” she said. “I need Astros tickets, I need Rockets tickets, I need Texans tickets, things that the kids here don’t have access to.”
During the Super Bowl, the Boys and Girls Club took 400 kids to a free football camp. On July 19, they took 350 kids to Minute Maid Park to see the Astros play. In the fall, they’ll take kids to a Texans game. Newman said for many of the kids, it’s the first time they have an opportunity to go to a game.
She also hopes to open a teen center. She said Brazoria County teens have few options when it comes to recreation, and she wants to create a space where they can practice job skills, get college-ready and have fun with their peers.
“They need mentors who can show them how to accomplish their goals and lead them on the right path,” Newman said. “That’s my next goal, to build a teen center.”
Between now and then, Newman has plans for a celebrity golf tournament and a ceremony to honor Judge Ogden Bass for his involvement with the club’s beginnings. Find out more at bgcbc.com.