Recently, I visited several Boys & Girls Clubs in Mississippi. Having a solid picture of the challenges our children in this state face and how BGCA can help is so important for many reasons. Mississippi’s poverty rate in 2011 was 22.6 percent, the worst in the nation.
While these Clubs may lack resources, they are rich in community spirit.
Later that day, Club kids, parents and board members greeted me at the Boys & Girls Club of Covington County. Chief Professional Officer Peggy Weary and Board President Mary Thornton provided an overview of their school-based sites, followed by a town-hall style meeting attended by local civic leaders, parents and Club members. The program was inspiring, with a dynamite musical presentation by a talented Club youth. Afterward, we had a good exchange of ideas as we discussed day-to-day challenges the Club and local families face in Covington County, where 25 percent of the 19,000 residents live below the poverty level.
These two Clubs amazed me. They exemplify how strong Club leadership and community support can enable small organizations to succeed in even the toughest environments. Even in good times, rural nonprofits tend to struggle. A chronic lack of resources hinders their ability to serve populations’ increasing needs. Child poverty is also concentrated in rural areas, where a lost job or other temporary situation can leave a family destitute. Randy and Peggy are true champions for our kids, leading their organizations to ensure youth have the potential for great futures.
The Keesler AFB community relies on their nearby Youth Center to provide robust and impactful programs for youth.
Our Boys & Girls Club in Pass Christian, Miss., boasts a state-of-the-art facility, thanks to the generosity of the country of Qatar.
The new Club facility was built on the same campus as the newly-built K-8 school. The proximity enables them to make the most of their combined resources. Teachers and Club staff work together to help kids achieve academic success. The district doesn’t have to bus students to the Club, which shares its gym with the school and provides students after-school tutoring. One teacher talked about what a big difference the Club has made for her students.
My final stop was the NFL Youth Education Town in New Orleans. (The NFL donates $1 million to build YETs in each Super Bowl host city.) Director Darrell Guy and several board members were on hand. We discussed issues that being located in a tough inner-city neighborhood presents and continuing challenges in the New Orleans community. Special thanks to Pat Van Berklo and the Baton Rouge team for their assistance.
These days, everyone’s budget is tight. At a time when Clubs are challenged to help more young people with less funding, sharing resources is a smart move. The more collaborations we can forge, the better we can help our kids.
We believe our Movement is special, and rightfully so. Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation are shaping the future of America at a time when it is needed more than ever before in our history. My thanks to all of you – from Club staff and volunteers to the friends and donors who support us – for changing and saving lives.