Fresh out of Holland High School in 2002, Adam Wittmeyer enrolled at Erie Community College to pursue a degree in information technology. He took a part-time job at the Boys and Girls Club of Holland to earn some money. Then a funny thing happened.
“I didn’t really care for [information technology] once I got into it,” Wittmeyer said. “but I really enjoyed working with the Holland kids under Executive Director Brian Tavernier. I finished my associate degree in IT, but I decided that Boys and Girls Clubs would be my career path.”
Thus began Wittmeyer’s 10-year career at Holland, when the organization’s home was still in the endearing, but ramshackle, former church on Route 16. He was there long enough to be part of the successful community fundraising effort that constructed the new club building on Vermont Street; a much more modern, more appropriate facility for school-age kids.
From there, Wittmeyer moved to the East Aurora club where, under Executive Director Gary Schutrum’s guidance, he rose from athletic director to program director and alumni director in the span of eight years. He became a popular and effective member of the staff.
“I’ve never seen a community stand behind its club the way East Aurora does,” he said of the club that is widely regarded as the gold standard for boys and girls clubs across the country. “The culture that has evolved around the boys and girls club is very rare. And enviable.”
When the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Orchard Park began its search for a new executive director, Wittmeyer decided he was ready.
“My main learning experience was with Brian Tavernier in Holland, and when I worked with Gary Schutrum, my career really began to take off. With his encouragement, I applied.”
He knew he was taking on a huge challenge. After a few decades of effective youth programming in Orchard Park, the 45-year-old organization had fallen on some difficult times. The image and programming had suffered, and the Orchard Park board called on Schutrum to help as a consultant. Schutrum, who had worked with Holland, Elma-Marilla-Wales and other clubs in the past, agreed, first righting the ship and stabilizing matters before heading the search committee for a new director.
After a thorough interview process, Wittmeyer won the job. He inherited a club with Covid-reduced enrollment at both units, a small staff and a physical plant in the former Orchard Park Middle School.
“My priorities are rebuilding the infrastructure of the building,” Wittmeyer said. “And establishing programs that will draw in more kids. We are focused on the safety of the kids when they are in our care, above all else.”
Since his first day on Sept. 6, Wittmeyer has seen some improvement.
“We have about 100 kids enrolled in Orchard Park, with an average attendance of 87. Most of them are elementary students who ride buses here from the four elementary schools in the district. We have 10 or 15 middle school kids. We’re offering art, crafts, games, athletics, help with academics, social recreation and lots of fun. We’ve opened our gym to the Orchard Park Youth Basketball Association several nights a week. We run a summer camp, too, here on South Lincoln Street and at the Boston unit. We hope that by giving the younger kids a positive club experience, they’ll keep coming when they reach middle school,” which, by the way, is right across South Lincoln Street from the Orchard Park club.
Through the generosity of Scott Bieler, the influence of Erie County Legislator John Mills and some grant money, Wittmeyer has been able to get some repairs done and contract for upgrades to the facility.
Challenges remain, however. First is staffing. The unit director in Boston recently resigned. Wittmeyer splits time at the two units while he looks for a replacement. At Orchard Park, he has part-time staff, many who are high school students. Fortunately, Wittmeyer has been able to hire Lori Stein, special events coordinator at East Aurora, as his office manager. She spends half a day at each club now. Jumping in to help part-time is the East Aurora club’s board of directors president, Rob Ruffner, who, “wants all clubs to succeed.”
Another problem is restoring the club’s prominence.
“I hear people my age talk about how prominent this club was when they were growing up. That’s what I want to restore. I’ve been busy since I started, especially because of the staffing shortages, but soon I hope to spend time in the community to get the word out that we’re here, we’re providing services to the youth of the area, we’re hoping to grow and evolve. We need parents, business people, educators, friends and neighbors to get involved. As soon as some of the improvements to the building are finished, I’ll have an open house for the public. I can’t duplicate what has happened in East Aurora; I’m not trying to make a clone. The two communities are similar but not identical. I will take what worked and adapt it for my new club. And then we’ll make it our own.”