Ross Weems is president of the Phoenix Club of Jackson. Weems, who has been an active member of the board since 2015, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mississippi State University and currently is first vice president with BankPlus’ Private Client Group in Jackson. He recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about the club and its efforts to help the Boys & Girls Clubs of Mississippi. Weems is a Northsider.
What is Phoenix Club?
“A 501(c)(3) organization made up of young, professional men between the ages of 24 and 35 who raise funds and awareness for Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Mississippi. Our roots trace back to the Phoenix Club of Memphis, which was formed in the 1950s and is still in operation today. When our founder, Micajah Sturdivant moved to Jackson, there was not an organization here, so he, along with Brad Reeves, Bo Zimmerman and Travis Ezelle, wanted to form the organization to make an impact in the local community. Those guys continue to make an impact even after their time with the club was up and are still helpful to us. There are also Phoenix Clubs in Nashville and Birmingham, and they also raise money for Boys & Girls Clubs.”
How many members do you have?
“Just over 90. It’s dynamic mix of members – nonprofit board members, community leaders, entrepreneurs, insurance agents, bankers, engineers, lots of attorneys. If we need any sort of legal help, we’re good to go in that regard. We also have financial planners, governmental staffers and lobbyists. Our club creates an avenue not only to give back, but to provide an opportunity for members to grow personally and professionally by being exposed to a wide variety of people, including club members, sponsors, people working at Boys & Girls Club, as well as the kids themselves.”
What happens when members turn 35, are they automatically out?
“They become alumni and no longer have to pay annual dues or raise funds. They’re welcome to attend our events and are encouraged to stay involved. Brad Reeves came and spoke at our monthly luncheon last month. Micajah and Bo still speak to our new member classes. Several other alumni also contribute, whether it be through helping us with sponsorships or helping with networking events.
“We take around 30 new members every spring, depending on availability. Our bylaws say we can maintain a membership of up to 100 men. If we get to the point where we hit 100, we would look to amending those, because we don’t want to turn anyone away who wants to raise money for a good cause.”
When do you accept new members?
“In February we will be doing a membership drive and we will take new members in March. At that point, we’ll be adding 30 new members, maybe more. We have a lot of interest this year, more so than in the past year, of people wanting to get involved with the club – kids who have moved back to the area after college, as well as people who have moved to Jackson and see the benefits of being involved with a group like ours.”
How much money do you raise for Boys & Girls Clubs?
“Since 2008, we’ve donated more than $550,000 dollars to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Mississippi. Last year alone we donated $80,000 and we should be donating north of $85,000 this fiscal year. The Phoenix Club is their largest private donor locally. We’re able to raise those funds through our four main events throughout the year, including our Speakeasy Soiree, which is February 1. Not only do these events raise funds, but they also give our members and other young professionals in the metro area an opportunity to network, make friends and have a good time.”
What are the funds raised used for?
“Boys & Girls Clubs’ general programs. Those programs include teaching about health and wellness, financial literacy, the arts and character and team development. The funds have also been used for facility renovations, such as adding a new basketball court at one of the units and repairing swimming pools. They’ve gotten those back up and running so kids can enjoy them in the summer months.”
What are some of the service projects Phoenix Club is involved in?
“We try to incorporate Fridays during the summer to go into the clubs, spend time with the kids and visit with them. On certain Fridays, we’ll do an ice cream social at the three Jackson units. Then, during our golf tournament, we’ll bring the kids from the Canton unit to have lunch with us. We do the tournament in Canton, at the Canton Country Club, so we can incorporate the kids from that unit. We let one of the kids from Canton tee off to start the event. The one that did it last year is still talking about it.”
How many units are there?
“There are four units in the metro area – three in Jackson proper and one in Canton.”
How many kids do those units serve?
“Over 2,400 kids from ages six to 19. Ninety percent are coming from poverty-stricken homes. Over 65 percent are coming from single-family homes. Our organization, as well as our sponsors, recognize the integral role Boys & Girls Clubs provide to combat the challenges these kids are facing, by providing a safe learning environment and staff and mentors to help them get on a better path. Just getting the kids to the clubs has a major impact. Our local clubs here in Jackson are graduating kids on a 90 to 95 percent rate, with 80 percent going on to secondary education. That’s above the state and national averages. That’s a testament to the work they’re doing here locally.”
Is there anything Boys & Girls Clubs are lacking? And how does Phoenix Club help fill those needs?
“There have been various things that have come up over the years. One year, they had some kitchen appliances that went out. The Phoenix Club purchased some used equipment to install in one of their kitchens. Two years ago, one of our members, Bradley Barnes, noticed the parking lot at one of the units was in disrepair. He got it repaved through his asphalt company.
“A lot of the Boys & Girls Clubs’ budgets come from grant money. There have been times we’ve had to write a check out of our budget in advance to help them make ends meet until grants come in. When those instances come up, they’ll contact us.
“Last year, when water was cut off for all of downtown and south Jackson, we were able to provide thousands of bottles of water for the clubs to have for drinking, cooking and basic sanitary purposes. We also assist with their major fundraising events.”
What’s been the most rewarding part about being club president?
“The opportunity to serve with so many community-minded servant leaders, whether it be the Boys & Girls Club staff, our amazing sponsors or our members and alumni. I’ve been blessed to meet and develop lasting friendships with so many wonderful people. I’m also very fortunate to work for an organization in BankPlus that promotes a culture that encourages employees to be leaders in our local communities.”
For more information about Phoenix Club, log onto www.phoenixclubof jackson.com.