By Ida Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
You may have heard of the Boys & Girls Club of East Mississippi (BGCEM), and how for more than two decades it has been a formidable force in setting many of the community's youth on the path to greatness.
But do you really know the CLUB, as it most often referred?
As BGCEM celebrates 25 years of changing the lives of the community's youth for the better, the board of directors, staff and volunteers are taking on a additional challenge: Educating the community about the CLUB.
"What we're trying to do is to get people to really know who we are and what we do, and the possibilities of our program if it's really fully funded and have the complete support of the community," said BGCEM's Executive Director Ricky Hood.
'We're trying to get them to understand that we are part of the solution," Hood said.
Since its inception, the Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi has grown from serving a small group to more than 2,000 members annually through its after-school and summer programs. The CLUB also has expanded from one to three locations in Lauderdale County: the West End Unit, Velma Young Center and Northeast Elementary.
The CLUB units provide after-school tutoring, computer assisted instruction, workshops on gang prevention, conflict resolution, self-esteem, goal setting, personal hygiene, and various health care (obesity) issues, fitness and nutrition, drugs, alcohol, and teenage pregnancy prevention, music, summer enrichment program, educational trips, leadership training, job training, and recognition programs.
BGCEM also conducts sports leagues in baseball (12 teams), football (13 teams), softball (15 teams), and basketball (22 teams). Without these leagues, the majority of the participants would not be involved because of lack of funds, transportation, or support. These leagues have become a vital part of the Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi's operation, mainly because they serve as an incentive for good grades and behavior.
With 25 years under its belt, what's next for the BGCEM? During its strategic planning process leading into the CLUB's 25th year, the board of directors identified three specific areas to pursue:
• Expansion of the program throughout Lauderdale County and East Mississippi.
• Address transportation issues.
• Solidify the CLUB's resource development and marketing.
"We want to offer the program to more kids. But in order to do that, we're going to need transportation and the resources to be able to do it," Hood said. "We're fortunate that the community is really working with us to make sure that those things happen for the children."
Hood, who has served as executive director much of the Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi's existence, admits that he did not think it would last 25 years.
"We were on life support as an organization – like most non-profits – for a long time," he said. "When I came back in 2003, our board of directors really started to come into focus, as far as roles and responsibilities."
And Hood said the board takes their responsibilities seriously.
"Not just the fundraising part of it, but also their volunteerism where they participate in the program," he said. "And they are knowledgeable about what we do every single day in our program, which is unique for nonprofit boards. They are really connected to our program."
While a strategic plan has been set in motion to take the Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi to the next 25 years (and beyond), Hood said an even greater force is needed to bring that goal to fruition.
"This year, what we're trying to do more than anything is really deepen the impact when it comes to educating the community about Boys and Girls Club," he said. "Yes, the question is, 'Do you really, really know Boys and Girls Club?' What we're trying to do is get people to really know who we are and what we do, and the possibilities of our program if it's fully funded and we get the community completely behind it."
The Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi is a United Way Agency. Hood said additional financial funding is needed, however contributions such as volunteers, school supplies and other necessities are also appreciated.
"We're going to continue throughout this year educating the community through one-on-one meetings with our business community, churches and organizations – not just advocating for Boys and Girls Club, but also advocating for children to let people see how they can help and get involved with the program," Hood said.
"And not only that, how they can connect to schools and other organizations that work with children. There's no way we can touch all the children in the community. But I think we can be in the midst of trying to pass the word on and connect people with other organizations in schools because we can't serve them all. We can only touch so many."