Boys & Girls Clubs of America impact young lives
By CJ Woodring
»Standing 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing 225 pounds, linebacker Devanté Ash is a formidable foe on pigskin turf. The former Indianapolis resident earned All-Marion County honors as a linebacker at Perry Meridian High School. And in 2013 he made three solo tackles and clocked significant playing time as a member of the Gold Squad during his freshman year at Franklin College.
When not participating as a member of the Grizzlies’ defensive team, the 21-year-old is a team member at the Boys & Girls Club of Franklin, helping to shape young characters and lives.
Call it defensive strategy against life’s challenges.
“He’s probably one of the best staff members we’ve ever had,” says Teresa McClure, the club’s executive director for nearly 10 years. “He just loves kids and relates so well to them. He has a club experience in his background and has stayed with us because of that.”
In fact, Ash says, it’s that experience — a year spent in the Indianapolis Boys & Girls Club when he was about 8 years old — that enabled him to play football.
“The biggest impact the Boys & Girls Club had on me was giving me an opportunity to play football, which was my passion,” he explains. “From there, I played every opportunity I could, beginning in the sixth and seventh grades and then through high school.”
Ash is entering his junior year at Franklin College this fall and became involved with the Franklin club as a freshman. During summer months, he’s a paid staff member; during the school year he’s involved there in a work-study program.
Ash says bonds formed with club staff and seeing the same people every day are important for young members.
“From my perspective as an adult, I want to be a role model to give (them) somebody to look up to. Having someone to help them, somebody they can always depend upon, no matter what, is very important. Everyone has to be treated differently, depending upon the situation,” he says. “But at the end of the day, kids just want to have fun and not have to worry about problems. Especially at that young age.”
Despite Ash’s own experience and while sports certainly are integrated within the overall curriculum, the club’s primary role goes beyond sports.
“I don’t think people understand that we used to be known as a sporting facility,” McClure says. “It’s not like that at all. Yes, we have basketball, soccer, flag football and T-ball, but there’s so much more for the kids to do. The program is more about character building and lessons that will carry them into lives as successful adults.”
Forming a national legacy
Mary and Alice Goodwin, along with Elizabeth Hammersley, first organized a boys club in 1860 to keep young would-be ruffians from roaming the streets in their Hartford, Connecticut, community. When 53 Boys Clubs in Boston merged in 1906, forming the Boys Club Federation of America, it began a nationwide movement and subsequent 1931 name change to Boys Clubs of America.
When girls were admitted in 1990, the name was changed to its current form.
The Atlanta-based Boys & Girls Clubs of America (bgca.org) celebrated its centennial in 2006. The nonprofit organization oversees more than 4,100 clubs, serving nearly 4 million young people through club membership and community outreach. Each club provides a safe haven with caring adult mentors who administer youth development programs on a daily basis.
The organization continues its initial mission of developing members’ characters while stressing academics, citizenship and healthy lifestyles, empowering youngsters to set and attain goals to reach their full potential. Fun, friendship and lasting relationships are an additional benefit.
Programs run the gamut and include character/leadership, education/career, the arts, health/life and sports/fitness/recreation. Specialized programs, including teen initiative, passport to manhood and Latino outreach, address unique needs of specific members, clubs and communities.
“Indiana Kids,” a state program, provides one-on-one tutoring for youngsters who need extra help with reading and math. The impact the BGCA has on young lives was reflected in a Harris Survey of alumni, in which 57 percent said the club “saved my life.”
It takes a village
McClure says the Boys & Girls Club of Franklin (boysgirlsfranklin.org) receives substantial backing and support from United Way of Johnson County and the city of Franklin.
McClure cites foundations and grants, along with generous support from corporate and media partners, and individual donors whose efforts are ongoing throughout the year.
“Our partnerships are crucial,” she explains. “This is a very generous community, which has been very good to us, and we appreciate that. The club is a great organization, with a great mission, and I think people get that. Membership during the school year is only $32 a year. They can’t beat that.”
The Franklin Club has been operational since 1937 — girls were first admitted in 1992 — and at its current city-owned location since 1984. Open to anyone ages 6 through 18, the programs serve about 1,800 children annually.
McClure says an average of 210 children attend the daily after-school program. In addition, an average 150 youngsters participate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in the summer program, which includes a free lunch and two snacks.
For $60 per week, students can attend from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the summer. Those slots are limited, she says.
Enrollment between boys and girls is nearly equally divided, and socioeconomics “are all across the board in terms of parental income,” McClure says. “If a child is unable to pay, we offer scholarships. We don’t turn kids away; we’ll find a way to get them here.”
In addition to four full-time staffers, the club employs a part-time program coordinator and about 17 work-study students who assist on a daily basis throughout the year.
As with all nonprofit organizations, the club relies heavily on volunteers, who serve as athletic and leadership coaches, monitor overnight lock-ins and coordinate special events. A core of about 500 volunteers served in 2014, many from Franklin College, its fraternities and sororities, and from within the local community.
During summer months the club enrolls students from Indianapolis and outlying communities that include Center Grove and Greenwood. Because they contract with the Franklin school system to bus local children, McClure says it’s just a matter of parents’ or guardians’ ability to transport non-residents to Franklin.
“Most are bused over from school, but some walk in from nearby neighborhoods,” McClure says. “We’re right across from the college and can walk to the park and swimming pool, so it’s very convenient.
“We highly encourage working on homework, and then they get to choose which programs they’d like to participate in … game room, gymnasium, computer lab, library, arts and crafts. The Lego room is very popular.”
Seventh-graders and older can gain access to the Teen Scene, where video and card games, television and computers are available. “It’s just a lot of fun stuff that goes on so they don’t always have to be around the little kids,” McClure says, “and it’s a privilege to be able to do that.”
It’s also a learning experience from a social perspective for those from more affluent families, she adds. “It’s good for them to be around other kids, to learn about diversity, to accept everybody, regardless of culture, race, etc. The older kids get involved in service projects, which has a lasting impact on our community.”
Good manners are also stressed — remembering to offer a simple “please” and “thank you” — and cellphones are not allowed, a major transition for youngsters most often tethered to electronic umbilical cords.
“No cellphones are allowed in the building,” McClure says. “We want them to interact and be active. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
In the end, the Boys & Girls Club of Franklin, as with all clubs, is about forming bonds and gaining trust with each child, offering mentorship and positive role models, and providing the tools each child needs to succeed in life, no matter his background.
“Relationships formed with staff are like none other,” McClure says. “These kids get so attached because they have a positive role model. You have to love kids when you work here, and, in turn, the kids look forward to being here. I think that speaks volumes.”
As for Ash, he says working with children is in his future following college.
“I will definitely do something to try to give back to the community and get involved,” he says. “I love kids and love the atmosphere of having a good time, but also believe in being responsible and respectful.
“The bonds you create with the staff at Boys & Girls Clubs is important to me, and it’s a great way to give back and show them there’s somebody out there who will listen and be their friend.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Franklin is located at 101 N. Hurricane St. Call (317) 736-3695 for more information or visit boysgirlsfranklin.org for details.