Whether it was at the bus stop on your first day of school, at an after-school program, or rushing a college sorority, you remember where you met your best friend.

The story of one of Coca-Cola’s historic partnerships is like the story of a friendship. It starts with two friends, it spans a lifetime, and it changes lives.

For more than half of Coca-Cola’s existence, the company has invested in America’s youth through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. This year marks the 70th anniversary of this historic partnership.

Friendship and Philanthropy

In 1923, Robert Woodruff became the third president of Coca-Cola. In 1929, Herbert Hoover became the 31st president of the United States. It’s no coincidence that two men with a passion for giving and a talent for leading struck up a relationship that would lead the then Boys Clubs of America – later renamed Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1990 – to new heights. President Hoover’s belief that the nation’s youth is its “most precious resource” led him to grow the organization to 550 Clubs serving nearly 600,000 young men by 1960.

Woodruff’s personal passion for philanthropic giving drove the company to contribute at the local level. In 1946, he started a partnership with BGCA that would go beyond what he and President Hoover likely thought possible in the early 1900s. It has grown in size and scope today, reaching kids and teens across the U.S. and on military installations around the world.

"Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Coca-Cola Company share a unique and dynamic history, spanning seven decades thanks in large part to Robert Woodruff. His leadership shaped a legacy of generosity and commitment to youth that has meaningfully impacted the Club experience for millions of kids and teens over generations," said Jim Clark, president and CEO, BGCA.

Woodruff was not alone in leading by example with his support of Boys Clubs. Bottlers knew connecting with the community was a key to their business, and contributed to their local Boys Clubs as early as 1904.

Between The Coca-Cola Company and its bottling partners across the U.S., dozens of leaders served on BGCA boards, and still do today. Starting with Woodruff in 1956 and for nearly 50 years straight, Coca-Cola’s CEOs were on the BGCA Board of Governors.

“Woodruff set a precedent with Coca-Cola, starting a long tradition which is part of what made our systems so integrated and compatible as partners,” said Evan McElroy, chief communications officer, BGCA. “People very much observe what happens at the top; here you have a company committing itself at the highest level to Boys & Girls Clubs.”

Progressing the Partnership

Like an enduring friendship, the BGCA/Coca-Cola partnership did not fade despite whatever growing pains, changes, adversity and opportunities each one faced. In fact, the relationship grew stronger.

Roberto Goizueta, CEO of Coca-Cola from 1980 to 1997, was another champion behind the partnership. In 1984, he received the Herbert Hoover Humanitarian Award from Boys Clubs of America.

During his acceptance speech, Goizueta artfully articulated his appreciation for the organization. “I support Boys Clubs because of what they offer: a positive alternative to the streets," he said. "I support Boys Clubs because of what they develop: self-esteem, sound values and skills. I support Boys Clubs because of what they build: the promise of a better future for our young people.”

Roberto Goizueta accepts the corporate recognition award on behalf of Coca-Cola, 1981.

Goizueta took the partnership to the next level when he announced a 10-year, $60 million commitment to BGCA in November 1996.

“In the modern era, when cause-related marketing and the corporate responsibility model began to take on a more contemporary flavor, I think Roberto Goizueta made a big difference in the early ‘90s because, as a member of our board and as a very savvy businessman, he took it to a new level,” McElroy explained. “Now it’s one of the largest corporate-non-profit relationships in our history.”

In the early 2000s, Coca-Cola reflected on its nonprofit partnerships, community efforts and philanthropic commitments, concluding its ubiquitous marketing platform needed some refreshment. The company wanted to match its social philanthropy to its business priorities.

“So we asked ‘how do we become local again? How do we take what we’ve been doing and build it into a more holistic process where we would become fully committed to the organization?’” explains Quinton Martin, vice president of cmmunity marketing, Coca-Cola North America.

That’s when Coca-Cola partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and BGCA to develop Triple Play, a comprehensive health and wellness program for BGCA members ages six to 18. The program strives to improve participants’ overall health by increasing their daily physical activity, teaching them nutrition and helping them develop healthy relationships.

“When we started this process, one of the differences was that we made our objectives for the relationship align with the mission and priority outcomes of Boys & Girls Clubs. We grade ourselves on how well we help them accomplish their mission; it’s not about creating brand impressions in Clubs or greater product availability – it’s about how the Clubs change kids’ lives,” Martin said.

When Triple Play launched in 2005, less than 200,000 kids and teens were actively participating. Today, the program reaches nearly 3,400 Clubs through more than 10 million connections, or times when kids actively use the program. It is the second-most utilized program in BGCA right behind Power Hour – the Club’s homework and academic-focused program, which the company proudly supports.

“Coca-Cola and Boys & Girls Clubs have been nimble together in addressing the need of each particular point in time,” said Chad Royal-Pascoe, national vice president of corporate and cause partnerships for BGCA. “What was needed in 1946 is different than what’s needed in 2016. Because we’ve been long-term partners and have an open dialogue, we can identify the biggest issues facing kids today and focus on them.”

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

What better way to help a friend than introduce her to another friend?

Aside from Triple Play, Coca-Cola helps BGCA by introducing other potential partners, whether for a specific project or need, or long-term support. One example is the USO – now in its 75th year of partnership with Coca-Cola – which helps BGCA serve military families at some 400 military installations around the world.

Friendships are a two-way street – both people have to gain something for the friendship to continue. That’s why Coca-Cola and BGCA developed a joint strategic plan together that continually changes with the company’s capabilities and BGCA’s needs. 

For Coca-Cola, the reward is matching the Company’s actions with its values by helping to build and strengthen the very communities it serves around the country.

“Overall we can say that we’ve helped Boys & Girls Clubs help a lot of kids,” Martin said. “In some communities, it’s the only safe place the kids and teens have to go. The Boys & Girls Clubs develop a quality product and the product is young men and women becoming productive citizens who, under normal circumstances, would have fallen through the cracks. Being a small part of that is worthwhile.”

Woodruff knew Boys Clubs provided opportunities for young men with limited opportunities or role models 70 years ago. Today, BGCA continues to help young people learn what is beyond the end of their street by encouraging youth to reach their full potential and grow into productive, responsible citizens.

“Our main goal is to find corporations and partners who have a common interest in helping to shape the future of America’s youth and to align with them on those issues we’re concerned about,” Royal-Pascoe said.