By Marywinne Sherwood
I think everyone has heard of the Boys & Girls Clubs, especially if you watch sports programs and see their advertisements. But many people don’t know that we now have two Boys & Girls Clubs in Chapel Hill — one on S. Estes Drive, off Fordham Boulevard, and a new one on Craig Street in Northside. The kids are so excited to have their own space where they can put up posters, their own work and finally have a sense of ownership. This is their club!
Years ago, when I first learned about Boys & Girls Clubs, I was told that 52 percent of adults who had been members of a club growing up said it saved their lives.
That got my attention. The club members didn’t just say it was fun or that they made friends. No, they recalled that, by the time they joined a club as kids, their lives were headed down the drain. They were in danger of being drawn into gangs, involved with drugs and guns, in jail or even shot dead. I had never heard people talk like that about childhood experiences, and I wanted to know what made these clubs so unique and effective. Why did they have such a life-changing impact?
Here is what I learned:
Although these clubs are open to any child who wants to belong, they especially seek out children who need us most — children in challenging circumstances who need extra guidance and support. Affordable ($10/year) and accessible (open every day after school from kindergarten through high school), our club gives kids who cannot afford other youth programs a safe place to be, an alternative to gangs, plus fun and acceptance all through their school years. It is life insurance.
Trained teachers provide structured, professional programming, stressing leadership, character development and — most of all — academic success. “Power Hour,” daily homework help, assures that each child will improve their grades, pass tests and, finally, graduate high school.
Our schools continue to struggle to close the achievement gap between Black and white students. Our clubs work successfully with the schools to raise test scores and reading levels as well as to cultivate deportment. Children begin to feel competent and proud of themselves and their successes.
Of course, the past year with COVID has been difficult and completely out of the ordinary. While Zoom classes worked well enough for many children, for others it was a complete loss. The burden was huge on parents and children, who were left at home to figure it out. Many homes did not have computers or internet access, and failure looked inevitable.
But our Boys & Girls Clubs came to the rescue — opening at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast, lunch and snack and closing at 5 p.m., providing a site all day for children whose parents had to go to work. School-provided laptops, internet service and headphones were provided for each student to participate in their classes remotely. Here was consistent support for the kids and their families plus the usual Boys & Girls Club programs, all while following the required distancing, use of masks and hand-washing to keep everybody safe. Our children’s need for emotional warmth and loving support was greater than ever and was found at our clubs.
A committed, trained staff holds the program together, providing structure, content and love. When we get through this difficult time, we will expand our enrollment to a daily average attendance of 100 children. To do that, we must hire more staff for the four classrooms in our new building on Craig Street.
We are saving lives. Will you help us? Your loving donation creates success for our schools and our youth. Your help will ensure success for even more children.
Here is how to donate:
*By check: Checks can be made out to BGCDOC (Boy & Girls Clubs of Durham and Orange Counties) and mailed to Jerome Levisy, CEO, P.O. Box 446, Durham, N.C. 27702.
*Online donation: Go to BGCDOC website (https://www.bgcdoc.org) and click on “Donate.”
*To donate stock or property: Call Jerome Levisy at 919-687-4517.
You can help in other ways. We need interested, committed people to serve on our board and be part of the exciting future for our club kids.
If you would like to learn more, email me at email@example.com or call me at 919-967-4264.
Marywinne Sherwood (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime resident of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. She has an MSW from UNC and is retired from a career in mental health. She has been a supporter of Boys & Girls Clubs since the successful effort in 2008 to start the club in Chapel Hill. She serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Durham and Orange Counties, which oversees the Chapel Hill Clubs.