Birmingham-area native Richard Curry accepts position, to start next month
By Morgan Bryce
Friday will mark the end of Wanda Lewis’s tenure as the executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County, a role she has had for the last 22 years.
During the last three years, Lewis said she had procastinated retirement because “it was always on (her) mind to start planning for things for next year,” but managed to follow through with her intentions to step away from her job earlier this summer. She added that she believes the organization has a bright future ahead with new Executive Director Richard Curry, who brings nearly 10 years of experience with Boys and Girls Clubs in the Birmingham area.
“We’ve got a strong staff and team here, and Richard’s wealth of experience coming in makes me feel really good about things. I believe it is in good hands with him moving forward,” Lewis said.
‘Education was what I always
supposed to do’
Born and raised in Auburn, Lewis grew up in the city school system and was a member of the high school’s first fully-integrated senior class in 1971. Morris, her husband for the last 47 years, was one of the first African Americans to attend Auburn High School.
After high school, Lewis briefly attended Auburn University, at first majoring in education and later switching to accounting before dropping out of school to focus on both her family and her career.
Lewis’s next three jobs, as a bookkeeper for Auburn Day Care Centers, parenting coordinator for Opelika City Schools and parent educator for Auburn City Schools’ “Even Start” program, helped prepare her for her future role.
Through decades of observing the Auburn-Opelika area, Lewis said she noticed that children, particularly in the African American community, were in dire need of more exposure to the arts. She, along with her sister Johnetta, helped create a summer program in the ‘90s to meet that need.
“I wanted to provide something to my children and others in the community during the summer that would enhance their academic work and develop other skills. We had people come and teach dance, creative writing and lots of other classes,” Lewis said.
The program resonated with the community, quickly outgrowing its original meeting place and seeing an increase in attendance each year of its existence.
In 1997, following a finale for that summer program, Lewis was approached by representatives from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County to gauge her interest in accepting the open directorship position.
Mostly unfamiliar with the Boys and Girls Club’s mission, Lewis researched it and took a tour of the organization’s two facilities in the Auburn-Opelika area, coming away knowing that this was going to be her next career.
“What I saw was an opportunity. We were seeing so many kids in this short time during the summer and I was happy with my job (at Auburn City Schools), but I thought I could perhaps reach way more children in this role and make a larger impact,” Lewis said.
She was the fourth director in seven years for the organization, which was dealing with systemic issues and mismanagement at its two units.
Through the work of Lewis and the team she later assembled, the club managed to expand its programs, see consistent growth in membership and serve more than 6,000 children during her 22-year tenure.
“It’s funny to look back and think that I was going to be in education, even though I didn’t like the classroom experience I had as an education major in college. Even though I didn’t always deal directly with students, I was always working behind the scenes to enhance their education,” Lewis said. “There’s a lot of ways to touch the lives of kids, and if I managed to play just a small part in helping some of them grow and reach their full potential, then it’s been a good journey for me.”
Earlier this month, Lewis’s journey was recognized nationally with her induction into the Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Hall of Fame.
Retirement and future plans
Lewis is currently enrolled in the University of Alabama’s New College LifeTrack program, majoring in leadership studies and plans to earn her first degree within the next two years.
She and Morris plan to take time to visit family and travel, as well as volunteer her time with several local organizations and help Curry plan the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration next year.
Together, the Lewis’s have two children: Courtney, owner and operator of Edible Arrangements and Danielle, who is the executive director of Ms. JD, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career female lawyers.
Following a dream
In a letter dated July 25, Curry was extended an offer to accept a position with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County.
“The hardest part of teaching young people to follow their dreams is the day you have to follow your own advice,” Curry wrote in a Facebook post. “My forever home and heart is in Birmingham and the Crimson Tide will ALWAYS be my team of choice, but my next stop is the Auburn-Opelika (area).”
Curry is a Pell City High School graduate and was the chief operating officer of the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club before coming to Lee County. He said he is beyond honored to continue Lewis’s work in this new role.
“I take a moment to pause and acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Mrs. Wanda Lewis during her time at BGCLEECO. Wanda has always been a friend and mentor to me – her “can do” professionalism and commitment to the members, their families and the communities within Greater Lee County is exceptional and personally inspiring,” Curry said in a statement, “I am humbled to follow in her footsteps as the next servant leader of this great organization.”
For more information about the Lee County clubs and the services or programs they offer, call 334-745-2582 or visit www.bgcleeco.org.