Frank Rigger energizes kids through sports & core programs
A physical education major and graduate from Fairmont State University, Frank Rigger has put his coaching skills to good use at Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan for the past 37 years. From setting up sports programs and allowing kids to be creative and have fun, to enlisting area businesses and universities as sponsors, mentors and more, Frank is a hands-on director for Huron Valley Club in Ypsilanti.
Prior to joining the club as director in 2004, he worked at five other Clubs. He worked for two years at a Club in Dearborn, which later closed, and did a variety of jobs at the Holden Club in Detroit for 22 years. From there, he ran the physical education program at the Wilson Club in Auburn Hills, and was recruited by the B&GCSM executive team in 1998 to serve as director of a new Romulus Club that was opening at Merriman Elementary School. He also opened the Romulus Club at Wick Elementary a year later.
When he started at Huron Valley Club, it had been an independent Boys & Girls Club. Coming into the fold of B&GCSM required merging the Club's traditional base of community support with a new management team.
The Huron Valley Club is just down the street from New Beginnings Academy, a 1st - 5th grade charter school. The Club draws up to 35 members from there and the principal often walks the kids to the Club.
"The biggest challenge has been transportation," Frank said. "We've been lucky to have two elementary schools - Chapelle and Estabrook - drop kids off after school. The parents are trying to work out arrangements with other schools too."
Frank enjoys the support of active community volunteers. Rebecca Johnston and Jonell Jackson have been involved with the Club as community supporters for more than a decade. They serve on the Advisory Committee along with other community leaders.
Frank has met with members of the Kiwanis Club, the Salvation Army (also just down the street) and other community organizations to garner support for kids at the Huron Valley Club.
"The word is out and we've gained a lot of support. Students and professors from Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan have been really good to us," Frank said.
The Advisory Council sponsored "Score for Kids Jamboree" in August and the Valentine's Day dinner dance on Feb. 12 for Club members and their families. At the most recent event, students from EMU's Omega Phi Alpha National Service Sorority helped serve dinner donated by area restaurants. The U-M Dental School conducted a program with the kids about a cavity-free zone, demonstrating how to properly brush teeth and offering other dental hygiene tips. Dental school students also are working on a garden project with the kids for the summer.
What does Frank bring from his own childhood to his work today? "Fun," is his simple answer. He and his friends would make up their own games and venture to area parks in West Virginia, staying from sun-up to sundown, playing baseball and football - depending on the season. Frank and his wife Donna, both of whom grew up in West Virginia, moved to Michigan so Frank could work at the Boys & Girls Clubs. They have a grown daughter, Monica, and three grandchildren.
While children today tend to spend more time indoors, Frank and his staff find ways to keep them interested in a variety of activities. "This Club is their home away from home," he said. "We have good kids and good parents - they like the fact that it is safe, fun and structured. We are their second family. It's been a good fit."
"We keep the kids off the street from 3 to 8 p.m. during the school year," Frank said. This is the timeframe when kids are most prone to getting into trouble. Teens are attracted to the Club for its student aide program, the Torch Club and Keystone Club (leadership groups that perform community service), gym time, and a variety of educational activities and trips. The Club also assists high school members with college selection and careers.
The Club has helped families weather the recession of 2008-2009 by welcoming the children as members even if they can't pay the annual dues. "We don't turn kids away - that's number one. If a family needs help, we try to help them out the best that we can. Aside from scholarships (for Club membership), we direct the parents to support groups that can help them," Frank said.
"We are always recruiting," Frank said. "We go to area schools to hand out fliers to kids and tell teachers and staff about our services. During parent-teacher conferences, we provide information about our programs to parents. We are the only Boys & Girls Club in Washtenaw County."
Frank knows that he and his staff are making a difference in the lives of kids who belong to the Clubs by listening to the feedback he has received from former Club members who are now young adults or in their mid 30s, raising families of their own. Frank used to play class A and class B softball with some of the kids from the Holden Club. They've carried on the tradition through their own softball team.
"I get a lot of phone calls from kids who attended the Holden Club. They like to keep in touch and talk about the good times at the Club. When they used to get in trouble, they would have to do pushups and, as we called it, 'push the broom.' Now, they say, 'Thank you,' to me for that discipline," he said with a laugh.
His advice to kids today is "Get involved in school activities, with your community and with the Boys & Girls Club. If you learn patience, success is not far behind. The Boys & Girls Club teaches kids many valuable skills, provides new experiences and helps them learn how to be leaders."
What motivates Frank as a Club director? "The kids," he said, reflexively. "The door opens and the kids walk through, and they've got a smile on their face. It's all about the kids."