In a Nutshell: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan (BGCSM) invests in the future of young people and in its communities by providing access to programs that teach financial literacy. Its accessible co-working and maker spaces offer an environment for entrepreneurs to build their businesses, and industry clubs give young people hands-on experience in a variety of professions. The clubs also help build cultural capital that young entrepreneurs can leverage to advance their career goals.
When people think of the Boys & Girls Club, after-school programs, gyms, swimming pools, and safe spaces for young people may come to mind. While the clubs certainly offer those amenities and services, that doesn’t paint the complete picture — especially in Southeastern Michigan.
“There’s value in those services,” said Shawn H. Wilson, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan. “But we also saw an opportunity to reimagine the organization for greater impact.”
Wilson has helped set the organization’s sights on facilitating economic mobility within the community. He previously worked on a similar project for the Ford Motor Company Fund. Under his guidance, BGCSM has spent years developing targeted programs aimed at reducing debt and improving personal credit, which can help strengthen entire communities.
Those goals rest on the foundations of skill development and the opportunity for self-efficacy. BGCSM helps people advance their financial standing and provides them with the means to achieve significant milestones, including homeownership, by equipping them with the necessary knowledge and resources.
“As a part of that, we’ve gone deep into workforce and entrepreneurship development,” Wilson said. “We created a series of what we call industry clubs. We’re the only Boys & Girls Clubs in the country to offer co-working space and maker space in our facilities, so that drives economic mobility as well.”
Innovative Programs Offer Resources for Entrepreneurs
In the Boys & Girls Clubs model, the keys to combating poverty are accessible and affordable resources. That’s why BGCSM operates co-working spaces and maker spaces and rents them at below-market rates. That helps entrepreneurs avoid debt and preserve their credit while accessing the resources they need.
“I’ve been doing this work for 25 years, and over that time, I’ve focused on helping kids graduate on time, disrupting the prison pipeline, food insecurity, and obesity,” Wilson said. “But when you look at the root cause of all those things, it’s poverty.”
Those facilities serve the typical entrepreneurs who are young, single, and bootstrapping their operations. But the facilities also provide child care, making them an ideal fit for parents and others with entrepreneurial ambitions.
The combination of resources allows entrepreneurs to devote their attention to expanding their side hustles, small businesses, and other ventures. That enhances their income, and small ventures that prosper and grow can keep local economies vibrant by retaining wealth in areas where it is needed.
“It’s really about an ecosystem,” Wilson said. “How do we invest in this ecosystem? Pretty much all of our vendors come from the neighborhoods around our clubs. Program partners come from the neighborhoods around our clubs. And because of that, we’ve been able to put $1.8 million back into our ecosystem, primarily into small businesses of color, over the last two years.”
Clubs and Collaborative Work Spaces Facilitate Education and Growth
BGCSM provides many opportunities for entrepreneurs to thrive. That is true not only of adults but also young people who are exploring potential careers and interests in future professions.
“Entrepreneurship is not a curriculum. It has to be an environment. There has to be a culture,” Wilson said. “We have about 150 youth employed this summer, and they’re doing everything from learning artificial intelligence to coding and building websites, you name it.”
This is the essence of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ industry club model. It offers hands-on experience in technical fields, data science, risk management, and urban planning. The program also offers opportunities in more artistic and soft skill-based fields, including fashion and design. A sports and entertainment industry club is also in the works. BGCSM plans to establish 14 total clubs across Southeastern Michigan by the end of 2025.
All of the clubs focus on developing skills for, and interest in, high-growth industries within Michigan. BGCSM provides young people with a path to promising careers by targeting those sectors. It also ensures Michigan has plenty of home-grown talent in its labor pool, which can help residents — rather than out-of-state companies or contractors — retain and build wealth within their communities.
“We’re creating that pipeline,” Wilson said. “I think there’s an opportunity to grow the talent.”
Successful Trade Careers Without the College Price Tag
“So often, our default is to say we need more youth in trades,” Wilson said. “Although I agree with that, and there is a shortage on that, we also need the white-collar jobs too.”
One of the keys to success in the white-collar workforce is a solid portfolio. Education is essential, but experience is equally so, as any resumé writer or job recruiter will attest. It’s even more important for entrepreneurs since they won’t be getting that experience under the direct guidance of other professionals in their field.
For many people, that experience begins in college, where students build their portfolios and resumés over four years. That time also allows them to start networking and make connections in their field.
In addition to education, college also provides cultural capital. Industry clubs may represent an alternative to the time and expense of higher education.
“We can give them the four different types of capital that lead to economic mobility: financial capitals, social capital, cultural capital, and human capital,” Wilson said. “We can help provide them with that at a younger age. They may not need to go to college. On the flip side, if they do need to go to college, they have the social capital to understand where the scholarships are, to get alumni from those universities to help get them in the door, and write letters of recommendations.”
Education Lays the Foundation for Homeownership and Community Building
Career training, cultural capital, and entrepreneurial opportunities are crucial components to building wealth and facilitating economic mobility. But a basic skill young people need to succeed is financial literacy — including positive money management habits, and understanding credit and loans.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan partnered with Bank of America, which provides club members with financial education. The partnership helps young people situate themselves for career readiness and, ultimately, homeownership.
“So why homeownership? Because that’s the backbone of wealth-building in our country,” Wilson said. “It’s how families pass wealth from one generation to the next. Usually, that’s going to be one of the largest assets.”
To prepare young people to acquire those assets, BGCSM helps them secure employment with wages of $10 per hour and up. It also starts educating them on homeownership as young as age 14. The hope is that by the time they are turning 20, they will have strong credit and enough money saved to make a down payment on their first home.
As with all of its industry clubs, the program is hands-on and experience-based. Rather than lecturing young people about finance, BGCSM puts money in their pockets and equips them with the knowledge to use it wisely.
But young adults who have strong credit and own property don’t just benefit themselves. Building financial independence and wealth also helps communities improve property values, create a robust public infrastructure, and keep money circulating within the local economy.
“That homeownership is going to drive greater investment in schools and safety. Homeownership is paying dividends for that neighborhood and for that community,” Wilson said. “From an economic standpoint, we raise everyone up in the community, and, hopefully, that’s what our model is proving out.”