VALPARAISO — The Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana and Boys & Girls Clubs of Porter County are fulfilling a New Year’s resolution today that’s been months in the making.

The 10 clubs that made up two organizations will merge into one entity, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana.

"The positive impact of our combined clubs will continue to grow with our same and stronger mission," said Ryan Smiley, president and CEO of the merged clubs, at a recent awards program.

That mission is to enable all young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.

"As an organization, we’ve got to continue to make investments in the club, its people, equipment, and staffing to ensure our relevance and sustainability for the future," said Smiley, adding with the merger, the two clubs will have a new name, new website (bgcgreaternwi.org), one board of directors, a single budget and new administrative staff.

"This is a perfect marriage. The two organizations have the same mission and objectives," said Tim Rice, a member of the Porter County board and now on the combined board. "This affords us a distinct opportunity to provide more programs, more high-quality programs for our kids."

The merger, Rice said, will enable the club to attract and retain quality staff.

"This is about kids building relationships with supervisors and program coordinators," he said. "When kids come back, they always talk about a couple key people at the club."

The merged clubs serve a combined 10,000 youth, with a paid staff of more than 200 and hundreds of volunteers.

Following months of research and planning, it was determined that combining the six clubs in Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana and the four clubs in the Porter County organization would make all 10 stronger.

"One single club makes mission sense and business sense," Smiley said. "The clubs essentially have the same mission. From a business side, this reduces administrative overhead by combining resources."

Smiley said the merger process could serve as a template for other nonprofits.

"For us, the question all came down to what’s in the best interest of all the kids. That served as the guiding light for all discussions and decisions," said Smiley. "Nonprofits need to remain relevant. They need to re-examine their business strategies."

These days, Smiley said, there’s more competition among nonprofits for charitable giving, board leadership and staffing.

"There’s no real wall between Lake and Porter counties. This is a real opportunity for us to set a positive example for other groups," said Rice, adding children don't see boundaries.

This merger did result in the elimination of some staff and positions, mainly at the administrative level, Smiley said, to "reduce redundancy with a single operation."

As much of the merger involves administrative moves, Smiley projects that young people will notice few, if any, changes.

Looking ahead, Smiley wants to assess clubs on facilities, programming and quality of services provided and "really have a good understanding of the needs of each of our communities."

Through the merger, Smiley hopes "we can engage more stakeholders in serving more kids, and provide opportunities not only for the youth who need us, but a place where all kids can come to a safe, fun and rewarding experience."

As of 2010, nationally there are more than 4,000 autonomous Boys & Girls Clubs affiliated with the national organization, serving in excess of 4 million young people. Nine in 10 club alumni say the organization was among the best things available to children in the community.

The youth organization also will have a new central administrative office, probably in Portage, Smiley said, as that is the most central location for all 10 clubs.

The clubs will continue to operate the KidStop before- and after-school program at nine area elementary schools.

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