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Effort under way to start Boys & Girls Club

SoVaNow.com / April 22, 2013
To the list of organizations catering to the needs of youth, Halifax County may soon add another member: Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

A group of citizens led by South Boston Council member Tina Wyatt Younger and Michelle Cole is working to form a Boys and Girls Club in the area, with a $150,000 fundraising goal to have the organization in place by fall 2014.

“In another lifetime that would have scared me. But because of the response I’m receiving, I don’t think $150,000 is going to be hard at all,” said Younger.

The first-term Council member said the formation of a Boys & Girls Club would fulfill her promise when she ran for office to help children in the community — and she said her enthusiasm for Boys & Girls Clubs is based on seeing what the organization meant to youths when she was living in New York City.

“When I came back [to South Boston] I said, ‘You know what, this would be a great place to have a Boys & Girls Club,” said Younger. Boys & Girls Clubs, she said, help youths “have a better outlook on themselves, and be more positive about themselves.”

Boys & Girls Clubs of America (http://www.bgca.org) bills itself as “a safe place to learn and grow,” with an emphasis on providing activities for children who otherwise might wander the streets or be left alone at home for most of the day. The organization provides low-cost, after-school programs for youths ages 6-18 until 8 o’clock at night. The cost of participation is minimal: five to twenty dollars per year, said Younger.

“Boys & Girls Clubs does not like to run off fees,” said Younger. “That means something is not being run properly, if we have to [depend] on children” to pay.

With membership fees expected to account for less than 10 percent of the operating budget, the local Boys & Girls Club will need to generate most of its funds through grants and private contributions. Along with dollars, the group is seeking in-kind contributions of equipment, a facility with enough space to provide athletic, academic and cultural programs, and other types of aid, including volunteer help.

“We’re always looking for people who will assist us, if they have land or a building,” she said.

Boys & Girls Clubs aim to help kids who are at-risk but not necessarily poor, and who may need the boost that comes with being exposed to a positive, fun daily environment. Once formed, the local club will offer a range of activities, from sports and games to after-school homework assistance to field trips to plays and music programs.

Younger said “most of the children who do come [to the clubs] are the ones who feel like they’ve been left out” or are having to deal with family issues. To foster togetherness and confidence, Boys & Girls Club will try to revitalize an aspect of childhood that is becoming increasingly rare: play.

“To be honest, growing up it seemed like we always had things to do,” said Younger. “We went outside and played. We didn’t stay inside the house.” In today’s world of video games, social media, and isolation, though, “they’re not out having fun anymore. It seems like they’re growing up a lot faster,” she said.

Younger said a Boys & Girls Club could help young families struggling in a tough economy by promoting qualities of leadership, character, academic accomplishment and physical fitness among children. As a first step towards forming the club, Younger said that she and Coles conducted an assessment of youth needs, mostly by interviewing children themselves. She said she was taken aback by some of the responses.

“It was amazing how negatively they viewed themselves. I know there’s good in there, but they don’t have a place to express it sometimes,” she said. “Some of these kids, they’re very intelligent, but their background and the way society looks at them, tells them they’re going to be a troublemaker.

Younger, a county native, gained insight into the work of Boys & Girls Clubs during her 15 years spent as a New York resident. But she notes that Boys & Girls Clubs is not an organization found only in major cities: its 4,000 chapters include clubs in Lynchburg and Danville.

“You’ll see them all over,” she said.

The organizing committee has planned a meet ‘n’ greet event at Halifax County High School on June 15 that will include a children’s carnival and information for interested families and potential volunteers. The event will take place from 2-5 p.m. in the school cafeteria.

Younger stressed that the Boys & Girls Club is not looking to supplant, but rather to complement, the work of existing organizations geared towards youths, including the Role Mentor Program and the YMCA.

“This is to enhance, not to take away. To be honest, there’s enough youths to go around — there’s enough who need help.”











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