Mackenzie Garst of Webb City, Missouri has been named the new executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County. She has been working in nonprofit for 13 years and served 27 months in the Peace Corps.

MIAMI— The Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County is moving ahead with recent transitions, selecting veteran nonprofit professional Mackenzie Garst as their new executive director.

She will be replacing former executive director Melissa Moore, who served at the club for 17 years and resigned after accepting a position with the City of Miami.

Garst is a native of Webb City, Missouri. After high school, she attended Pittsburg State University (PSU) where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in youth development.

“During my time there, I was very active in the local YMCA,” Garst said. “I was their program director the entire time I was at Pitt State.”

Once graduating college, Garst left for the Peace Corps where she spent 27 months as a youth development specialist in another country.

“I was living on a small Caribbean island named Grenada,” Garst said. “It is the southernmost island of the Caribbean just a stone’s throw from South America. There I worked a lot on literacy, community development, organizations- anything from women’s rights to HIV/AIDS work and everywhere in between.

“It was great to live in a foreign country and to experience how people in other countries live and view social issues,” she added.

Garst then returned to the United States where she worked in mental health and moved on to the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Missouri (Joplin). There she served as development director for two and a half years.

“I did all of their grant writing, fundraising, community work, social media and marketing,” Garst said. “I actually worked for the club in Joplin twice. When I graduated high school, I worked for the club as a normal staff member during the summer. It’s really where I fell in love with the idea of the club, what it means to the community and how it can impact kids’ lives.

“I knew that I wanted to major in something where I can continue to work at a Boys & Girls Club,” she added. “I got my degree and gained experience. I came back and thought, now is my time to give back. I’m very excited to be back at the club.”

One of her proudest accomplishments was acquiring and implementing the 21st Century Learning Grant at the Joplin Club.

“It’s an after school learning grant that helped expand services from only serving the Joplin community, and we expanded it out to the Webb City community,” Garst said. “Because I’m an alumni of Webb City, it was a great opportunity for me to give back to the community that helped raise me.”

With the grant, the club was able to serve approximately 150 children a day in the Webb City School system.

“It was great because although there were other after school programs in the Webb City community, there wasn’t an after school program focused on at-risk kids who would be falling through the cracks and don’t have a safe place to go after school,” Garst said. “It was one of my greatest personal accomplishments that I was able to give those kids a place to go after school. It’s still alive, functioning and doing well.”

Garst said she was motivated to apply for the Miami position as executive director because the idea and framework of the club have always called to her.

“My heart has always been at a Boys & Girls Club,” Garst said. “I just didn’t know when I would have the opportunity to be back at a club. When this position became available, I thought what a great opportunity to help a younger club develop and become the center of children’s services in Miami. I looked at it as a challenge and something that I’m passionate about. I’m excited to work in Miami.”

Her official first day will be on Monday, and Garst said she is hopeful and encouraged to start working with the club.

“I’ve met a lot of the board members and they seem passionate and motivated to help this club succeed,” Garst said. “I’m excited to get involved in the community and see where we can take the club. I want it to serve all of the kids in Miami and the surrounding areas that need support after school, whether that’s just a safe place to hang out while mom and dad are at work or a place to find their passion for education. It’s all about the kids.”

Through the interview process, Garst was told about the club’s future home at the Armory Building in Riverview Park.

“The immediate thing we need to focus on right now is getting into that new building because once we’re in that building, it opens up doors to opportunity for other things,” Garst said. “With that comes the need for community support. The building and the programs aren’t going to pay for themselves, so I hope to help the community identify the need within the club.”

Garst said the next step is to start building relationships with the staff, the children, and the community.

“I understand that I’m not from Miami, but I have a lot to offer to the community,” Garst said. “I’ve seen great things happening within the Boys & Girls Club currently, and I want to help enhance that. I want to see what’s working, what’s not working and give those staff all of the tools they need to succeed.”

Her aspirations include not only building up the successful programs the club currently has but supplementing those with new ideas, programs and increasing enrollment. Garst said she has been working in nonprofit for 13 years, which is her true passion in life.

“It takes a special kind of person to work in nonprofit and I’ve always been drawn to nonprofit because of the ability to see the person you’re impacting right then,” Garst said. “A lot of times in corporate America, you’re on the daily grind, and you might never see the outcome of your hard work. The beauty of nonprofit is you’re often working day in and day out with those people you’re directly impacting. The kids are my main motivation, and I love working with them to ensure that they’re successful adults.”

The Boys & Girls Club Board said they are looking forward to working with Garst and seeing the direction she takes the club.

“We’re very excited to welcome Mackenzie to the Boys & Girls Club,” said Jennifer McAffrey, board president of the club. “She has a history of doing wonderful work with other clubs in the area. She has valuable skills in writing and managing grants. She brings a fresh perspective with new ideas, and we believe she’ll help move the club in an exciting direction.”