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At the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, His Remarkable Legacy Will Live On

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There have been dumpster dives that have made his colleagues wonder what exactly is wrong with George Krupanski. Myriad games of checkers with kids. More requests for funding and other support than anyone can ever hope to tally. The résumé is full. The results have been impressive, indeed.

Those who reflect on Krupanski’s time with the Boys & Girls Clubs can provide a litany of accomplishments. Yet, he considers his efforts less a job than an example of his fulfilling a desire that goes beyond general workplace definitions. As a youngster, Krupanski thought often of joining the ministry. Following more than 40 years with the clubs—including 27 in Delaware—Krupanski realizes he may just have done that.

“After working for Boys & Girls Clubs for just a couple years, I realized I did go into the ministry,” he says. “This has been a calling for me.

“It’s work that needs to be done.”

In July, Krupanski stepped down as president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, ending a run that brought unprecedented growth and prosperity to the organization. Thanks to Krupanski’s stewardship, the clubs’ budget increased tenfold, and the number of people it served swelled from 3,200 to 30,000. Thirty-nine new locations opened across the state, and the Boys & Girls Clubs’ endowment doubled to $5 million. By every single measure, Krupanski’s tenure was a resounding success.

But gauging Krupanski’s impact only by the numbers misses the real reason why he has been so valuable. A lot of businesspeople can help the bottom line swell. Their acumen increases revenues and donations. The true measure of Krupanski and his leadership comes from his absolute belief in the clubs and his love of those who benefit from their services. It’s one thing to use the word “calling” to describe one’s work, quite another to mean it in its truest sense. Krupanski lived the Boys & Girls Clubs’ mission. For him, helping children grow and develop was a life’s work, not just a job.

“One of the best ways to describe George is selfless and dedicated,” says John Wellons, who succeeded Krupanski. “He was always aware of the opportunities to mentor and guide other people.”

Krupanski has remained with the organization in an advisory position, helping with government relations and special gifts—nods to his experience working with the agencies that help fund Boys & Girls Clubs and to his ability to compel others to participate. Those roles suit him, but his true strengths are in the everyday management of an organization designed to help children—mostly from at-risk populations—find ways to thrive away from the sometimes challenging environments that surround home and school. Certainly, all of the work with officials and people with the fat checkbooks is vital to the clubs’ success, but at their heart they provide daily refuges and opportunities for growth. Krupanski understands that. More importantly, he has lived it for four-plus decades.

“It’s wonderful working for someone who completely, 100 percent believes in the mission,” says Rachel Kane, executive director of the Clarence Fraim club in Wilmington. “To see him play with the kids and go into the classroom to color or play checkers with them is great. It’s easy to talk a good game, but I saw him walk it. It makes it worth it. It makes you want to do your job.”

The question was simple, one that young people have heard for centuries: What do you want to do in your career?

Krupanski had been working for Boys & Girls Clubs in Binghamton, New York, while completing his associate’s degree. When the head of the club asked Krupanski about his future, all the young man could say was that he wanted to help people. He wasn’t sure how.

That was all the club’s head needed to hear. He recommended Krupanski for the W. Clement and Jesse V. Stone Foundation scholarship to George Williams College in Downers Grove, Illinois. The grant stipulated that Krupanski work for the Boys & Girls Clubs for two years after graduation. He did that—and another 45.

Krupanski started as a weightlifting instructor in Binghamton. Though he hadn’t done any bodybuilding, Krupanski was a big guy and looked the part, even if he wasn’t a beast in the weight room. “I always felt George is a gentle giant,” Kane says. He also taught arts and crafts.

After graduation, Krupanski worked for the clubs in western Massachusetts and earned a master’s degree in community leadership and development and administration of volunteer and professional services from Springfield College. It was clear he was on a path to a life of service.

“First and foremost, he has been dedicated to the mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs,” Wellons says. “He wants to do what’s best for the kids.”

​George Krupanski (left), joined by new CEO John Wellons and a few local kids, will be a tough act to follow at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware.//Joe del Tufo

 

Krupanski spent 10 years at the national office of the clubs in New York City, handling a variety of jobs, including regional director for the Northeast. He advised and counseled agency members and traveled extensively. In 1990, the Boys Club of Wilmington (the national organization added girls that year) offered him its executive director spot, and Krupanski grabbed it. He may have been on a track for a top position with the national organization, but he felt it was time to move into a role that gave him more contact with the people the clubs served. “I wanted to have more association with the kids,” he says.

Krupanski’s daily work did not involve considerable direct contact with young people, but his efforts impacted them greatly. When he joined the Wilmington organization in 1990, he created a strategic plan to expand the reach throughout Delaware, then began the work that eventually would result in an expansion from five locations to 44. That growth has allowed more youths to experience the benefits of the clubs.

“The work we do involves focusing on kids who need help the most,” Krupanski says. “We help them develop social skills, provide drug and alcohol prevention programs, and work on delinquency prevention. We want to involve young people in a variety of positive and wholesome activities. We are trying to develop skill levels and individual abilities for young people to grow and fulfill their destinies.”

The clubs are open to all young people, but they work mainly with those who need the most help, Krupanski says. That means they seek participation from kids in tough neighborhoods and from families struggling with challenges from finances to abuse to mental illness and more.

Even Krupanski is surprised the clubs were able to expand to so many corners of the state, but he says the growth is absolutely necessary because there are so many children who can benefit. Krupanski’s three children—now grown—have benefited from the clubs’ ability to help them achieve goals. But the real heroic work comes with children who have little or no positive influences.

“In some cases, we have saved lives,” Krupanski says. “We have provided opportunities and safe places to be redirected from situations that could have resulted in terrible consequences. We focused on pointing them in positive directions.”

Krupanski’s big picture efforts on behalf of the clubs were vital to their growth and success. He was able to cultivate donors who made consistent financial contributions and to work with government officials to ensure funding from the state—funding that allows the clubs to be the largest provider of childcare services in Delaware. Legislative support pays for things such as 500,000 meals a year that “are necessary for kids to survive,” Krupanski says.

Krupanski’s impact was felt by those who worked with him during his 27 years at the clubs. He was a valuable mentor to people like Kane, whose first experience with the clubs came as a young girl when her mother was an art director at one of the them.

“I met George when I was in middle school, in about 1991,” Kane says. She has learned a lot about leadership from Krupanski and has benefited considerably from his counsel.

“He is super-calm,” Kane says. “He always keeps his head. Often, I am fuming about something, and I will talk to him, and he calms me down.”

Krupanski is not without his quirks. “George is a hoarder,” Kane says, flatly. Throughout his tenure, he found it hard to believe that anything should be discarded, so employees used to schedule large cleaning projects when Krupanski was on vacation, the better to prevent him from diving into the dumpster to rescue cherished items.

“George never saw an in-kind donation he would say no to,” Wellons says. “He would say, ‘You never know when we could use this.’”

On Oct. 19, the Boys & Girls Clubs honored Krupanski’s contributions and leadership with a dinner at the Hotel du Pont. There were video tributes, remarks by staff, performances by some of the kids the clubs serve and some speeches. Krupanski spoke last and, as he typically does, captivated the audience. The night was a perfect capper to his career. Says Kane: “It was a tear-jerker.”

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