Pamela Nealey has always enjoyed caring for and mentoring children.
Nealey, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club of Manhattan, used to babysit when she was younger and taught girls modeling. Her passion for working with children has led to a career with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Her love for children has gone beyond working with them throughout her career. Nealey was a foster mother to 158 children in eight years, some as young as a day old. After fostering Lena since she was 3 months, Nealey adopted her when she was 2 years old. Her daughter is now 10 years old.
As a foster parent, she was mostly asked to house teenage girls because she was able to help them build their confidence and make good decisions in life. “I just always want girls to know that no matter what you go through you still gotta keep pushing,” Nealey said.
Nealey started working for Girls Inc., a girls club that started in the 1860s in Connecticut, in 1989. In 1990, the Boys’ Clubs of America changed its name to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. After nine years working with Girls Inc., Nealey started a long career in metro-Atlanta, working for Boys & Girls Clubs and making some changes at the clubs she worked in to ensure the safety and inclusion of all children.
Charlotte Henderson, a close friend of Nealey, had a daughter at the Boys & Girls Club Nealey was working at when the women met. Henderson said she went to pick up her daughter, Taylor, then 6 years old, and was worried something had happened after she was asked to sign her daughter out and wait instead of freely walking in.
Nealey had implemented a new sign-out procedure to ensure the children were leaving with a parent.
Henderson also noticed her daughter got along with Nealey, which led to the women becoming close friends.
“You just have some of those friendships where even if we don’t see each other every day you know that if you need them that they are there and I try to make sure she feels the same about me,” Henderson said.
Nealey was always going above and beyond for children, Henderson said, getting them bicycles or taking them to basketball games, providing experiences the children would not have otherwise had.
“She made sure nobody felt out of place. Anybody could go talk to her whether it was one of the parents or a student,” Henderson said. “She always made all the kids feel safe, feel like they really had a good place to be and she had a lasting impact on every club that she went to.”
Nealey has worked in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, helping open new clubs and build programs before being transferred to her next location.
In her 18 years working for the clubs, Nealey has always pushed for programs for girls to help build their self-esteem and give them something to do.
“They always had sports for the boys, all kinds of stuff for boys but they didn’t have a lot of girl stuff,” Nealey said. “They do now. Of course we’ve grown a lot so back then I would just really push. My strength was doing programs for girls.”
Nealey moved to Manhattan in August from Flowery Branch, Georgia. She worked in Gainesville, Georgia, as the curriculum specialist and trainer for the Boys & Girls Club there before accepting a position in Manhattan. Though she never expected to live in Kansas, she feels closer to home moving here.
Born and raised in Chicago, Nealey attended Catholic school and lived in a safe neighborhood in a middle-class income household. Her mother pushed her to be her best but allowed her to make her own decisions, she said.
Her mother was a single parent and her brother was not around much, so Nealey felt like an only child growing up. Nealey also raised her son and now her daughter as a single mother.
“She never made an excuse for being a single mom and I think that’s important now that we can’t make excuses. When you have children you gotta do what you gotta do,” she said.
“I always tell people, ‘Raise your child by any means necessary,’” she added. “Because we make excuses for single parents. I don’t.”
Nealey decided to work instead of going to college after high school. She is now working toward her bachelor’s degree in communications with a journalism emphasis through the University of Phoenix. Although she didn’t go to college immediately after high school she always emphasizes the importance of education to club members.
“My son needed to see me look at education in a different way,” Nealey said. “I think sometimes you need to lead by example and if he saw that I didn’t go to school then he might not have gone.”
Now that she oversees club directors and doesn’t work with the children as often, she tries to give directors advice on how to mentor children, especially those who have to deal with difficult issues at home. She works with teenagers a couple times a week and tries to visit with kids and get to know them.
Nealey’s goals in Manhattan are to grow the teenage program and to assure that the community sees the Boys & Girls Club as a positive place for children to go.
“For so long we’ve made the little kids a priority so it’s time to make the teens one of our priorities,” she said. “We serve the teens but I think we need to serve them to the best of our ability.”