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Boys & Girls Club's director earns regional award

Fresh out of college, John Hartnett Jr. was looking for a job. Turns out all he had to do was shoot hoops on an outdoor basketball court at his local Boys Club.

Kenneth Self needed an assistant director for the club. It was a year-to-year job. Not a lot of perks. No guarantees.

That was in September of 1980. Four decades later, John Hartnett Jr. is still influencing young Shelby County lives.

And the newly-renovated J. Kenneth Self Boys & Girls Club will keep him entrenched in the community for years to come.

A new main office, new flooring throughout the facility, new storage lockers, an improved kitchen area and cafeteria as well as a classroom with 20 computers, an art room and another workroom are just some of the amenities that were recently completed in no small part to a generous donation from Joe and Theresa Harlan that helped spur a capital campaign that benefited both the local Boys & Girls Club as well as Girls Inc. – the two youth-based organizations share a large parking lot.

Hartnett Jr. has been Executive Director at the club since April of 1984 after Self passed away. Under his direction, the Boys & Girls Club has positively affected thousands of lives in Shelbyville and now Shelby County, with satellite branches in Morristown and Waldron.

That growth helped Hartnett Jr. earn a regional award for his work with the Boys & Girls Club. On Oct. 11 at the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis, Hartnett Jr. was bestowed the “Contribution to the Profession Award” for the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Midwest Region of 14 states.

“I didn’t know anything about it until I was notified,” said Harnett Jr. while sitting in the club’s conference room which features two tables and a wooden showcase of trophies earned over the decades of service to its community.

With the honor came the opportunity for a brief public speaking opportunity.

“I got to say a few words about the people who inspired me,” he said. “If I were to thank everybody who has had a major impact on me, I would be thanking people from now until I pass away. So many people have been very important and extremely supportive and very nice to me all these years.”

The first Boys Club in Shelbyville opened in 1954 on W. Broadway St., according to Hartnett Jr. It moved to its current location at 710 S. Miller St. in 1960. A second gymnasium was added on in 1996.

Over nearly 40 years of service, Hartnett Jr. has seen the Boys & Girls Club face new challenges helping raise kids – but the mission has always stayed the same.

“It’s more comprehensive as to what you are asked to do,” he said. “You have meals after school. You have the partnership with the school system to bring buses to the school to drop (kids) off and pick them up in the morning, but I think the essential message has not changed.

“You are there to bring young people to their potential by fostering relationships both with adult leaders and with youth. I think that is the No. 1 priority of the Boys & Girls Club and I don’t think that will ever change. Your methods may change. Your demands may change but as far as the central mission, that will remain constant.”

As constant as John Hartnett Jr. being in the building.

“I graduated from Franklin College in 1980 and I was looking for different jobs,” he said. “I thought about going into teaching. Kenny Self approached me while playing basketball outside one day. He asked me if I was interested in a job here. It was year-to-year, primarily funded by the city and he didn’t know how long the job would be here.”

Hartnett Jr. found his skill set fit in well. He has degrees in Political Science, Political Philosophy and History.

“What those types of liberal arts do is teach you how to think,” he explained. “Whether it’s comprising a newsletter, speaking before an audience or devising a new program, you are using all those intellectual capacities.”

No longer is the Boys & Girls Club just an after school and summer break program. Its doors are open year round to service its community.

“You didn’t have nearly as many mothers working, they were much more available during the day,” said Hartnett Jr. of the changes in family dynamics since he first started in 1980. “Now you have more kids raised by extended families. Grandparents are raising more and more kids. I deal with more of them as primary caregivers to children than I have in the past.

“The demands of families have changed. People live better than ever, but to live better than ever they work harder than ever. They work more hours than they have before. They work double shifts and different shifts. As a result, kids are in organizations more ... they are here more. They are here in the mornings. We have a group that comes in 6 to 8 a.m. before school, and they are here after school, summer break they are here, they are here on Fall Break, Spring Break and Christmas break. Stepping into those roles has been a big change.”

That’s why the facility needed to be modernized.

“It started with a conversation about the parking lot,” said Hartnett Jr. “It was in bad shape. We had to do something about the parking lot.”

So Hartnett Jr. and Amy Dillon, Executive Director of Girls Inc., met and scheduled board meetings to discuss fundraising ideas.

“We came up with the idea to raise some money and do another capital campaign,” said Hartnett Jr., who said the goal of raising $2.2 million was achieved.

Joe Harlan had always been a loyal supporter of the Boys & Girls Club. He routinely left checks behind for Hartnett Jr. when he was in town. But he always had a bigger philanthropic goal in mind.

“He said he wanted to do something big,” recalled Hartnett Jr., who believed the capital campaign was just what Harlan had in mind.

The two set up a meeting in a local attorney’s office.

“We talked about naming opportunities. I thought we could get $150,000, maybe $200,000,” said Hartnett Jr. “So I asked him how much money are we talking?

“He said, ‘One million dollars Johnny.’”

Half of that investment went to the capital campaign while the other half went directly to the Boys & Girls Club.

One quick tour through each facility showcases the generosity of the Harlan family – as well as all the other donors that have helped make the J. Kenneth Self Boys & Girls Club and Girls Inc. a safe haven for Shelbyville children for years to come.

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