Karen Englert: Leading the Way in Transforming Young Lives at Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Charles County

For seven remarkable decades, the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Charles County (BGCSTC) has been a beacon of hope, a place where young hearts and minds find mentorship, guidance, and the nurturing they need to become compassionate, responsible, and productive citizens. While times have changed and the world has evolved, the unwavering values of this institution have remained constant.

Today, BGCSTC stands as a multifaceted organization with a mission that extends far beyond mere after-school care. Under the visionary leadership of Karen Englert, the Chief Executive Officer, the BGCSTC has transformed into a dynamic provider of nationally renowned programs and services.

The journey of BGCSTC has been a testament to its adaptability and resilience. While the faces of sponsors and financing sources have shifted over time, the core purpose of this organization has remained intact. It’s about building a better future for children and families in the community. Karen Englert emphasizes, “Staying relevant to current donor trends, grant opportunities, tax laws, accounting principles, and the like is a major focus.”

One of the key pillars of Karen’s leadership is enhancing the organization’s brand awareness. It’s not just about marketing; it’s about ensuring that the community understands who BGCSTC is, what they do, and the vital role they play in addressing needs and creating a positive impact. 

As BGCSTC charts its path into the future, Karen envisions a deliberate, collaborative effort to further their mission. This includes expanding their reach westward, forming stronger corporate partnerships, and investing in workforce development, STEM programs, and preventive initiatives. 

Karen’s vision for the clubs has been fortified by the diverse perspectives brought to the table through her collaboration with the BGCSTC board and staff on an updated strategic plan. She understands that the journey of club members, from participants to advocates, not only transforms individual lives but also binds the community together. And with Karen Englert leading the way, BGCSTC is poised to continue touching hearts and shaping futures for generations to come.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Nurturing the Next Generation

The Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Charles County (BGCSTC) stand as beacons of hope and support, dedicated to empowering the next generation within their community. They serve as a guiding light for the youth, offering them access to opportunities that may otherwise remain out of reach. For some, it’s about engaging in activities they may not have explored otherwise; for others, it’s finding a safe haven that fosters a sense of belonging and provides respite from life’s challenges.

With two campuses in St. Charles County and strong partnerships with nineteen local schools, BGCSTC goes above and beyond in providing children with avenues for engagement and support beyond school hours. The Clubs are steadfast in their commitment to promoting academic excellence, instilling healthy habits, and nurturing character development. They achieve this by offering a wide array of extracurricular activities that cater to the diverse needs and interests of their members.

The heart of BGCSTC’s after-school programs lies in mentorship and support. Students not only receive daily meals but also invaluable guidance. Excursions, hands-on learning opportunities with community leaders, gardening programs, sports activities, and nourishing meals are just a few of the offerings that enrich the lives of these young members, especially during the annual summer camp.

The Clubs’ impact extends far beyond academics, as they strive to equip these youngsters with the skills and confidence to thrive in various aspects of life. From spirited basketball games on the court led by their dedicated Youth Development Professionals to volunteer-driven ACT test preparation, the Clubs are dedicated to nurturing well-rounded individuals who are prepared to excel beyond the confines of the classroom.

Balancing Passion and Purpose

For Karen, the challenge of work-life integration is a very real one, but it’s a challenge she willingly takes on for the sake of her overall well-being. She wholeheartedly believes in the mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Charles County (BGCSTC), a mission that’s both a personal passion and a professional calling. However, she acknowledges that pursuing this mission with the dedication it deserves requires a deliberate and intentional approach.

Karen’s day begins before the sun graces the horizon, armed with a steaming cup of coffee and a screen filled with work emails. This precious early morning time is her sanctuary for clear thinking and strategic planning. As the CEO of BGCSTC, her day is a mix of tactical responsibilities and employee management. It includes the orchestration of regular board and committee meetings, conducting weekly one-on-one sessions with her direct reports, spontaneous discussions with donors, meetings with community partners and stakeholders, and handling the more routine tasks like budget supervision and policy reviews. In the world of nonprofit leadership, there’s never a dull moment.

But Karen’s passion extends beyond BGCSTC. She serves as the volunteer Board President of ATHENA Leadership Foundation of St. Charles County, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering and promoting women in leadership. She firmly believes in the power of building a community where individuals can contribute and flourish. Therefore, her late afternoons often find her in the company of like-minded women, working together to sharpen their strengths and channel their drive for the greater good. She also generously volunteers her time on event planning committees and advisory boards for various community organizations.

As the day winds down, Karen finds solace in the quiet evenings at home, sharing moments with her biggest supporter and number one fan, her husband, Jeff. He adds a touch of humor and the aroma of delicious home-cooked meals to their lives, keeping her grounded and refreshed. For Karen, setting healthy boundaries and maintaining realistic expectations is the cornerstone of achieving a harmonious and sustainable blend of work and life.

Measuring Success Through Growth and Values

For Karen, the definition of success has evolved significantly over her career. In the early days, success was synonymous with tangible metrics like the amount of money raised, awards collected, KPIs met, and win-loss records. These were the yardsticks against which her achievements were measured.

However, as time passed and her journey continued, Karen’s perception of success underwent a profound transformation. Success is no longer solely about numbers and accolades for her. Instead, it’s about those moments when her team collectively: 

  • Chooses courage over comfort,
  • Achieves a harmonious balance between personal and professional values,
  • Approaches change with curiosity and an open mind.
  • Redirects the privilege they possess toward the service of others,
  • Extends grace and understanding to their colleagues, and
  • Demonstrates compassion and self-care.

For Karen, success is now intrinsically linked to these actions and principles. She sees herself as an advocate for people to set higher standards for themselves and continue seeking personal and professional growth. It’s not just about what’s visible on the surface; it’s about the culture they collectively build as a team. This culture shapes their interactions, values, and intentions.

In Karen’s view, their actions and intentions, both the obvious and the subtle, contribute to the unique culture they share as a team. Importantly, this culture isn’t confined to their professional lives but extends to how they serve their families and the broader community. They’re setting a model of behavior and intentionality for the next generation to embrace as their own.

For Karen, success is no longer a destination but a continuous journey of growth, values, and making a positive impact on the world.

A Commitment to Education and Service

Karen’s educational background and her areas of interest are rooted in a deep commitment to education and service. Her focus encompasses special education, marginalized communities, and the critical need for early childhood literacy. This dedication to education and community support has been a defining feature of her life.

Karen brings a wealth of experience to her role at the Boys & Girls Clubs, drawing from a history of engagement in education and non-profit leadership. Prior to her current position, she served as the Statewide Director of Government Relations for a non-profit organization with a strong focus on health.

However, Karen’s passion for service and her dedication to her community are not mere professional pursuits. They are deeply ingrained in her values, instilled in her from a young age. Her mother played a pivotal role in shaping her perspective, emphasizing the importance of volunteering to assist those in need. This assistance transcends physical, mental, and emotional needs, reflecting a holistic approach to community support.

Serving alongside her mother and within her professional roles brings Karen a profound sense of joy and purpose. Her journey is a testament to the transformative power of education and service, where her commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of others continues to be a driving force.

Empowering Women Leaders

Karen, a female CEO, derives immense satisfaction from her role in empowering other women leaders. She is not only dedicated to her position as CEO but also humbled by the multifaceted roles she embodies: an executive, an advocate, a mother, a wife, and a valued community voice. When she reflects on the broader impact of her work, she sees a profound responsibility and an incredible opportunity.

Karen considers it a true blessing to be able to expand and multiply the influence of other women. She is deeply passionate about leveraging her experience, privilege, education, and network to mentor and guide the next generation of female leaders. Through mentorship, she aims to provide support, encouragement, and the valuable insights necessary for women to excel and thrive in their respective fields.

Her commitment to empowering women is not limited to her professional life; it extends into her role as a mother, wife, and advocate within her community. Karen’s dedication to mentorship is a testament to her belief in the power of women supporting and uplifting each other, leading to a brighter and more inclusive future for all.

Leading Through Challenges

Karen stepped into her role as CEO just two days before the COVID-19 pandemic closed the doors of the Clubs in March 2020. Facing an unprecedented situation and lacking the luxury of a typical transition period, Karen sprang into action immediately. Her focus was on ensuring that the children continued to receive essential support and that her staff remained meaningfully employed during these challenging times.

This endeavor involved taking significant risks, implementing new service models, securing additional funds, and re-establishing a culture of transparency. It demanded that Karen extend herself in novel ways to maintain a positive outlook in the face of adversity. It was a true test of her determination and leadership, and she, along with her dedicated team, met the challenge head-on.

Throughout this challenging period, Karen’s unwavering commitment was to put the needs and recognition of front-line workers at the forefront. These employees were on the front lines, delivering critical services, and Karen ensured that their importance to the organization, its mission, and the well-being of the children was acknowledged and rewarded.

Karen considers one of her most significant achievements in 2020 to be securing funding and support to provide well-deserved pay increases to all front-line employees. This action was a testament to the team’s steadfast dedication to fulfilling the needs of the community they serve, even in the face of adversity.

Expanding Services and Eliminating Debt

Karen’s tenure as CEO of BGCSTC is marked by two major objectives: expanding services across the county and eliminating debt. While these goals may not always be spoken of in the same breath, they both hold significant importance.

Upon stepping into her role as CEO, Karen inherited a substantial facility debt. Under her leadership, along with the support of the board of directors and administrative staff, the organization has made considerable progress in reducing financial constraints and making prudent investments. Nevertheless, there is still more work to be done. The BGCSTC team is committed to developing an annual partnership program and advancing the naming rights campaign to ensure financial stability for years to come.

This swift yet strategic expansion plan also centers on optimizing resources through strategic hiring and retaining staff. As Karen aptly puts it, “Our people are our most valuable resource.”

Karen underscores the fact that high-need areas in the county lack access to quality wrap-around programs that can meet families where they are and empower children. She envisions the establishment of a new Club site in the western region within the next few years. Despite the historically undervalued impact of local nonprofits, Karen passionately argues that organizations like BGCSTC, with their boots on the ground, are the most capable agents of meaningful change. The organization’s unwavering commitment to the community, particularly evident during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, underscores its dedication to advocating for the youth they serve.