May 2019

5 Drinks with: Molly O. Hornbeck, Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Bluffton

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

For 20 years, “Miss Molly” has been a fearless force for change in Bluffton. Through her constant effort and boundless enthusiasm, she has forged a path for the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton that has taken it from a handful of dilapidated trailers to a beautiful and ever-expanding facility.

she’s drinking:
Club soda, like the positive role model she is.

I’m drinking
Woodland Reserve

Along the way, she’s touched thousands of lives, shaping vulnerable youth into successful adults.
From pounding the pavement raising funds to spending one-on-one time with a child in need, she is tireless in her love for the club she’s been a part of for 20 years. As we sat down at Sigler’s Rotisserie for a few drinks and some oysters Rockefeller, she’d just wrapped three hours spent counseling a child.

Barry Kaufman: Is that typically part of your day?
Miss Molly: I never know how my day is going to go. I have some things I have to do, but as soon as I walk in the door the whole thing turns into something else. It’s a big part of my job. It doesn’t just stop with the children. It’s the parents and the staff; it goes on and on.

BK: How long have you been doing this?
MH: Since 1998. I’ve been the one and only director of the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton for 20 years. I’m working on my second 20. I’m excited about that. When they hired me, they had already signed up 250 children. They hired the staff, then they came and looked for the director.

BK: That is pretty much the definition of the cart before the horse.
MH: Yes. They interviewed me at Hilton Head, and we opened up in the schools at M.C. Riley. And the summertime is the worst time you can open up a Boys & Girls Club. It’s very intense, and it’s 7:00 to 7:00—long days.

I went to see the club at M.C. Riley and just observed for the first couple of days. Then I went home and cried for the next couple of days. I did not know what I had gotten myself into. My husband said, “If you can make a difference in one child’s life, you’ve done a lot.”

So, I stuck with it, and when I went back, I suspended 24 children. They were outrageous—having fights with each other, drawing blood, and half of them were brothers and sisters with different names. I didn’t know any of that. So, when I went back, I said, “You, you, you and you are suspended. Outta here. Suspended—two to three days.”

BK: What happened after you kicked those 24 kids out?
MH: The parents all said to them, “You better get back in there and do what that woman tells you to do.” Where else can you get daycare for $45 a year? I’m very adamant that we’re not a babysitting service.
Everything that we do is about building character. We have a five-part program: character leadership development; healthy lifestyles; the arts; sports, fitness and recreation; and education and career development.
We have probably dozens of programs that support that. And everything we do, we measure. Because if I can prove to you the impact, then investing in the future is easy for our donors.

BK: How do you measure that?
MH: We have evidence-based programs that we measure, pre- and post-tests, they’re journaling what they think. I’ll give you a line of questions about a particular goal we have, and then, at the end, we give you the same test and see how you answered it differently.

BK: What were those early years like?
MH: We spent that first summer in the schools. M.C. Riley was only one elementary school in Bluffton, and it was bursting at the seams. They probably had a thousand children in a school that only held 700. Of course, they had to have mobile classrooms in the back. The next thing I know, they were building Bluffton Elementary, so half those kids were going to go out there, which freed up the mobiles.

I went to the principal and said, “Look. Being in the school wasn’t easy. Our hands were tied. We were programming in really limited spaces. My office was literally a closet.”

He said, “You got something there. It’s going to keep growing around here, and it would probably be easier to keep them here than lose them and try to get them back.” So, he gave us 11 mobiles. Each one was a designated program area: technology, art, games, my office, canteen … it was like a village. So that worked out.

Five years later we were falling through the floors of the mobile units. They were dilapidated. These babies deserve a clean environment. I went to my board to see about a facility, and they told me there was no money in this area. I said, “Tell you what, give me one hour out into the community. If I come back with a substantial amount of money, would you think about doing a capital campaign so we can build a facility?”

My CEO at the time said, “Oh, let her go.” Little did they know I had my friend Harry Gilmore on speed dial, and I said, “I’m coming to get the check.” And he brought me back a $50,000 check. He made it very clear to the board at that time that I was the only woman he’d ever given this amount of money to.

BK: Is it tough juggling that level of strategic planning and fundraising against one-on-one time with kids?
MH: I will stop everything when it comes to that child, if it’s serious. Otherwise, I have a great team of people. They will tell you they bleed blue. So, I get to concentrate on the funds and my vision for this organization.

BK: And what is that vision?
MH: I love to serve Bluffton. The growth that’s taking place in Bluffton, I have 500 kids on the waiting list, and it is killing me. One of the things we realized is a lot of the children are not reading on grade level. So, we decided to test everyone that’s a member in order to target those reading 25-50 percentile below grade level and put them in our reading program.

It was mind-boggling to find out that’s how they build prisons. They determine whether that child is reading by the third grade, and if he’s not, that’s how they decide how many prisons they need.
We can’t save the world, but we can chip away at it a little bit. Every child in this program for a year or more is reading at two grades above.

We had a donor say, “You keep turning out those numbers, I’ll fund this program.” They wanted to remain anonymous, but they’re funding our reading program and have for the last six years. And now I have 100 kids that can’t get in. I don’t have space. So, I’m screaming, “We need to expand.”

They finally decided to run a campaign to build a literacy center. My vision is run a campaign to generate a $6 million endowment so we can live. I’m tired of begging. I’ve been begging for 20 years. And sure enough, we raised $650,000 and extended one wing for the literacy project. That’s going to free up our current IT program to expand technology. I’m excited about that.

I have kids today who have been there 20 years say, “Miss Molly, when we were in those trailers, all you talked about was building this facility. We never thought you were going to do it.”

BK: That’s got to be interesting, seeing kids who grew up in your programs as adults.
MH: I have a second generation now. I have their babies. The amazing thing is that they’ve come home. You know? Especially those that drove you crazy when you were trying to help them understand. The only children that I knew really well are the ones that got into trouble. Now, when their children come in acting like their parents did when I had them, I pull their files and say, “Let me show you what your mommy and daddy did—what you’re not going to do.”

BK: What gets you up in the morning?
MH: I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me. Because I am committed. I’m being used by the Almighty to do this job. What a wonderful gift and a blessing to know what your purpose is. I’m ready for anything that comes my way but putting God first—that’s how I operate.

When you walk into the facility, it says on the wall, “I believe in God and the right to worship according to my own faith and religion. I believe in America and the American way of life and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I believe in fair play and sportsmanship. I believe my Boys & Girls Club stands for all these things.”
It was not easy to get that on the wall. My board of directors said we don’t want to offend anyone who comes across the threshold with that.

BK: When was this?
MH: When we were opening the club in 2005. I told them, “I would like for you to open your billfolds and take out a dollar bill and read where it says in God we Trust. Are you offended? No? Let them put it up.”

BK: There’s a tendency to think kids these days are worse. Are you seeing that?
MH: What I see is that the mothers are young, and the grandmothers are younger. The family structure makes a huge difference in how these babies are being guided and directed. They are lacking that GPS that a child needs. For the most part, they’re dysfunctional families. They don’t have the mother and the father.
And the lack of male role models is huge. I witness today more single dads than I ever have. It seems like the women are taking off first. I don’t understand a mother that can desert a child.

BK: Was it tough raising a kid while raising several hundred other kids?
MH: Actually, it was a blessing to my daughter. She was praying for a sister or brother. Little did she know she was going to get 250 of them. You better be careful what you pray for. She grew up in the club with me, and she did cheerleading and fell in love with the children. And they fell in love with her.

BK: Is your disciplinary style similar with your own kids and kids in the club?
MH: When I accepted this job, I had no clue about the Boys & Girls Club and what that was. I operated from my heart and my soul—in what I believed in, in raising children. I went to my CPO and said, “You haven’t been around to see if I’m doing anything right.” And he said to me, “Some people can pick up the ball and run with it. And some people can’t. I have clubs that have been in existence much longer than you’ve been around, and you’re doing much better. I have to monitor them. I don’t worry about you.”

BK: If budget and reality were no constraints, what would be the dream for you?
MH: I would put that armor of protection all around those children. If you look at that child and the four cornerstones: schools, families, church and community, if any of them have a weakness, that allows guns and drugs to infiltrate that child’s life.

So, I would make sure that those were strong.

BK: And how do you do that?
MH: I don’t know if I have the solution to those problems, but I feel like if I had that kind of freedom, I could make a huge impact on these babies in this community. I always said that being where I am, I want the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton to be nationally known.

BK: When your second 20 years are over, what do you think are going to be the big highlights of your career?
MH: The children say to me, and I don’t think this, because I don’t take any credit for what happens in Boys & Girls Club, “Molly you’re a legacy. You know that, don’t you?” I say, “No, I don’t know that.”

BK: What does a legacy mean to you?
MH: Maybe I’ve made a difference in the community. And it wasn’t easy. They talk about a cumyah and a binyah. When you’re a cumyah, nobody trusts you. That’s one of the things I can say: I’ve been who I am from start to finish. They trust me. I think that’s a huge accomplishment. I had to have a couple native islanders to endorse me in order to even reach that level.

Being part of this organization, if somebody gives me two dollars and says you need to buy two red crayons, you can believe I’m buying two red crayons. It’s that trust. And I’m excited to show them that investment. I think that the best thing to invest in is our future.

I have the best team—I really do. And it takes that kind of effort to pull that off.

The community is what makes this club so outstanding. When you have that support from the community, the sky’s the limit. Our slogan is to build a better Bluffton one child at a time. And we’re doing that.

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