Kate Zirkle: To the next level

Photo: Elli Williams Photo: Elli Williams

It’s 3pm on a Thursday, and Kate Zirkle holds the door open for a dozen 10-year-olds, each clutching a juice box and string cheese. The kids all smile and say “thank you” as they pass through the doorway and rush up the steps into the Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia for snack and journal time.

Zirkle, a longtime volunteer, board member, and former board president who eats, sleeps, and breathes the Boys & Girls Club, shakes her head and grins at the well-behaved group.

“That right there? That just makes me want to do a happy dance,” she says.

Zirkle has been consumed by the Boys & Girls Club, which covers Charlottesville, Albemarle, Orange, and Madison, for about seven years. She moved here from Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband and their five children about 11 years ago, and was recruited by a friend a few years later. Naturally comfortable organizing groups and leading projects, Zirkle dove in head-first and immediately began working with both the kids and the board of directors. She knew, after sending her daughters to magnet schools in an urban area of Raleigh what the Boys & Girls Club could do for at-risk children and youth both academically and personally, so she said she was eager to get involved.

“When they asked me to chair the [annual fundraiser], I just needed to get to know what this was about, so it wasn’t just a fundraiser,” she said. “It’s something that I can speak to and believe in, and I could represent the club and recruit people to join in the project from a position of authenticity.”

She said she doesn’t spend nearly as much time with the kids as she’d like because most of her energy is expended on fundraising and collaborating with community partners. But when she does get to hang out in the club for an afternoon, she finds herself newly energized and it reminds her that everything she’s doing has a purpose.

“There’s no better feeling than to see a kid gain confidence and strength, and feel so secure here,” she said.

When asked what’s the most challenging aspect of serving on a board that manages a regional nonprofit with a multi-million-dollar budget, Zirkle immediately said “fundraising.”

The board of directors is in perpetual fundraising mode, but the biggest and most voluminous source of the club’s budget is the Big Gig, an annual black-tie gala held in Charlottesville.

“Black tie, dinner, auction, dancing—it’s a pretty standard affair,” Zirkle said modestly.

Sure, if “standard affair” means “event that national celebrities show up for.” Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw has been known to fly in to be the guest auctioneer, football hall of famer Howie Long and his wife, Diane, have made an appearance in the past. The event brings in a hefty chunk of change—roughly $200,000 of the board’s annual $1 million operating budget—but Zirkle said it’s about more than that.

“People who are in the room at the Big Gig understand the cause,” she said. “We don’t have to talk about the Club much that night because everyone knows. Everyone gets it.”