Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Boys and Girls Club: It Really is a Positive Place for Kids

A few years back, Friendship Lutheran Church, the congregation I serve as pastor, was still worshiping in a school gym and looking forward to the day when God would bless us with a building on our Amelia-area property.

Among the things we hoped to do with a building was offer an after-school program where young people could receive warm welcomes, positive direction for their lives, and homework help.

Christmas Eve, 2002 saw our first worship celebration in our first building.

Since that time, we’ve been able to welcome the community in many ways. In addition to things like worship, Sunday School, and youth group, the building has also seen local agency staff retreats, baby showers, rock concerts, comedy shows, and many other activities.

But there’s been no after-school program. That’s because in Spring, 2003, I received an invitation from my friend and Amelia Elementary School principal Barb Dardy to get involved with a group of caring community people in bringing the Boys and Girls Club to west Clermont County.

I had heard of Boys and Girls Clubs before. No doubt you have too, especially if you’ve watched a nationally-telecast Major League Baseball game at any point in recent years. Big leaguers have gotten behind promoting and raising money for the organization nationally.

But beyond that, I knew very little. Soon, however, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Clermont County, Nancy Beck, and other committed community leaders had done a good job of educating me.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, I learned, started out nationally as the Boys Club back in 1892 and first came to this county in New Richmond in 1996.

In the eight years since its start, the New Richmond club has had a tremendous impact on the community. Many youth have been given confidence and a sense of direction. Court and law enforcement officials alike say the club has reduced juvenile crime. Educators note that because of the club, students have their homework done.

The New Richmond Club achieved---and continues to achieve---these results through a variety of programs such as arts and crafts, Power Hour homework help, SMART MOVES prevention program, Passport to Manhood mentoring, and the Keystone leadership development program.

The West Clermont group I was invited to join in 2003, saw the New Richmond success story and hoped to replicate it in their neck of the woods. That in fact, dovetailed with the vision the leaders of the New Richmond group had already discussed, that of taking a Boys and Girls Club “unit” to every township in the county.

On January 5, 2004, the new West Clermont Unit came into being. On the strength of a single written notice sent to parents in the Amelia area, average daily attendance at the after-school club hit 50. At present, the average is 85 and is located at the Amelia Elementary School, thanks to the gracious cooperation of the West Clermont Local School District. The Amelia United Methodist Church provides additional space for the club.

Meanwhile, the New Richmond club continues to be strong, serving an average of 50 children every afternoon. A highlight is its Friday evening “Teen Nights.” During the summer, the club is open from noon to five, providing young people with positive activities at a time of year when it is really needed.

Friendship Church decided not to reinvent the wheel, but instead to support the Boys and Girls Club of Clermont County in whatever ways we can, be it volunteering, financial contributions, or prayers.

My personal involvement with the Boys and Girls Club is among the things with which I’m most pleased in my life.

Next column: How is it funded? How can you get involved?

No comments: