Building up youth in a down economy

Blount County Boys and Girls Club works to fill funding gaps

Members of the Boys and Girls of Blount County pose for a group photo at the Currie Avenue location.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Members of the Boys and Girls of Blount County pose for a group photo at the Currie Avenue location.

Elijah Cox gets some time on the basketball court in the gym at the Currie Avenue Boys and Girls Club.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Elijah Cox gets some time on the basketball court in the gym at the Currie Avenue Boys and Girls Club.

When a child is in need, it’s hard to ask them to “wait.”

The Blount County Boys and Girls Club has worked hard during its 58 years of serving Blount children to never have to tell anyone who needed their services there was no room in the program.

Now, the danger of a “waiting list” is all too real.

The task of serving the 475 members at the two locations of the Blount County Boys and Girls Club will be more challenging in the next 14 months as close to $100,000 of the agency’s $540,000 budget will go away. The picture is bleak on next level, too, as the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley is expecting a $1.3 million shortfall.

The shortfall in Blount County comes because of a $47,000 drop in United Way allocations and a loss of $49,000 in various grants that are ending, Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley president and CEO John D. Lee said. “That’s why we’re reaching out to the Blount County community. If anyone is interested in helping, now is the time to contribute to Boys and Girls Club.”

Lee said the Blount club is losing a $20,000 21st Century Community Learning Center state grant. “It is a federal pass-through grant that is sun-setting because time has run out on the grant,” he said.

Lisa Hurst, executive vice president of the Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley said, “In addition, we have lost a specific federal grant of $30,000 to do physical education programs,” she said.

Lee said what has happened at the club’s locations in Blount County is no different from what many other non-profits are dealing with in the current down economy. “This has been a real tough time. Unfortunately, our United Way in Blount County had to downscale their goal, and we were reduced. That is not the fault of the United Way, that is what the economy has done,” he said. “Now we’re trying to figure how we can come up with additional $47,000 in the next 14 months.”

The CEO said that in 2009, the Boys and Girls Club in Blount County served 42,153 meals or snacks to members. There is a total membership of 475 members and on average staff serves 93 youngsters a day. “We transport from 11 different schools in Blount County to our two locations and have four full-time and 10 part-time employees,” Lee said. “We have to replace our budget to its full $540,000, which is a pretty sizable operating budget.”

Lisa Hurst is executive vice president said that if funding drops it impacts the club from the standpoint of being able to hire teachers to come do extra tutorial services.,” she said. “Basically those dollars allow you to hire part-time staff to do nutritional programs as well as physical fitness and to make sure our kids are engaged in physical activity at least an hour a day,” she said.

Hurst said in Blount County for every $10,000 they can’t replace there are 20 kids they can’t serve. “We’re at bare bones. We have to maintain a one-to-20 student to staff ratio. We’re Department of Education certified in order for us to receive funding from them. If we don’t replace the dollars lost through United Way and the 21st Century Grant, we’re going to have to have a waiting list,” she said. “We have never been in this situation before. We have always been able to make sure we didn’t have a waiting list.”

Hurst said when it comes to the education of Boys and Girls Club members, the staff works to be “equalizers” who give the members help they’re not getting anywhere else. “Many of our children’s parents were not successful in school, so we have to work with the kids so that they value education. We make sure they receive extra help,” she said. “With all the extra enrichment activities, we try to complement what the schools are doing and allow the club members to do that at the club.”

Davis said one of the club’s main goals is teaching values. Programs go deeper than they may appear on the surface. When playing basketball, for example, kids are learning socialization and leadership, Davis said.

“Our main thing is to give them what they need to be successful. It is about being socialized, having character development and leadership opportunities so they can go out and give back to the community,” she said.

Davis said students have a scheduled time everyday in Learning Center to do homework or get additional academic help.

“Our educational director will also help them with one-on-one peer-teaching or having older kids reading to younger kids. It is based on a child’s need. If they’re working on a science project or a term paper, we have computers, poster board, rulers and crayons - so many things that seem like basics to us but some kids may not have the means to get those things,” she said. “Those are ways we can bridge that gap.”

Lee said staff focuses on character, education and leadership programs and arts programs they can do with the members. Often they use a little trickery to make learning fun.

“We have tennis balls, and we put letters on the balls, and then throw 500 tennis balls on the gym floor. The goal is to pick them up and spell as many words as they can,” he said. “I think when we think about changing a life, we want to make sure our kids value education. We help them set short-term goals so they begin to understand long-term goals,” he said.

Lee and Hurst said the fundraising approach Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley and Blount County are taking is also long term.

“We hope United Way can get back to where they were before, but our strategy is to develop a long-rang plan to make sure our kids are served,” Hurst said. “We’re asking people to consider a three-to five-year pledge so we can plan ahead for our kids. In addition to fundraising, we’re also looking for state and federal grants. It is important to understand this isn’t just a crisis situation today. This is something we want the community to know we need long term.”

Blount County Boys and Girls Club Chair Bill Kilgore said the Dixie Iron Riders motorcycle riding organization will lead a ride this Saturday, May 1, for the Blount club. Registration will be from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at The Shed at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson and Buell on West Lamar Alexander Parkway.

“Kickstands are up right at 3:30 p.m. We’re going to go on a two-hour ride of scenic Blount County. Cost is $20 a bike, and $10 is tax-deductible to the Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “We’re giving out some door prizes when we end the ride at The Shed.”

Performing at The Shed on Saturday is the Led Zeppelin tribute band Winds of Thor, beginning at 8 p.m. Riders can buy tickets to the concert for $5.

On May 24 the annual golf tournament for the Blount County Boys and Girls Club will be held at the Green Meadow Country Club.

“Everything made on these two events stays in Blount County. We’re part of the Tennessee Valley organization, but what we make over here goes straight into our budget. We would like to raise $45,000 between those two events,” Kilgore said.

Lee said the Fifth Annual Challenge Cup Golf Classic at Green Meadow will include a competition between area club champions. “We’ll have the Challenge Cup where area country clubs put in two teams each -- one in the Senior Division and one in the Regular Division. The winner of that takes the trophy to their case,” he said. “We’re getting sponsors for $250 each, and there is a $100 entry fee per golfer. We provide a light snack, breakfast and lunch.”

Kilgore said they are trying to raise as much money as they can for the children. “It costs about $1,000 a year per kid at the Boy and Girls Club. Some pay as little as $5 a week to come, so that cost has to be covered somewhere. Our fundraising events allow kids’ programming to continue,” he said.

The Dixie Iron Riders did their first charity ride for the Boys and Girls Club four years ago, and that’s how Kilgore eventually became a board member. Now he is chair of the board.

“It’s a worthwhile cause. It’s not something I do half-hearted. I’m all in, and we’re growing,” he said. “The Dixie Iron Riders are great with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club.”

The Dixie Iron Riders have made a name for themselves leading charity rides throughout Blount County. This summer they will make an even bigger impact by leading a ride to benefit Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the state of Tennessee.

On June 26 and 27, the Dixie Iron Riders will lead a ride from the Tri-Cities to Memphis. “Cruising for our Club Kids” already has 50 people signed up, but Kilgore said he is hoping for about 100 more to join.

“The across-the-state ride is going to benefit all Boys and Girls Clubs and not just Blount County,” he said.

The riders will start at the Boys and Girls Club in Johnson City, stop at Boys and Girls Clubs in Knoxville, Murfreesboro and Nashville, where they will spend the night at the Music City Sheraton. The next day will begin with breakfast at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashville, a stop at the Boys and Girls Club in Jackson, winding up the trip with a one-hour tour of Elvis’ Graceland before dinner at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Memphis.

Kilgore said for the $250 rider/$150 passenger fee, each participant gets a $75 gas card from Pilot Travel Centers, a Graceland tour pass, food all weekend and hotel accommodations on Saturday at the Sheraton Music City Hotel.

Kilgore said he and Dixie Iron Riders president Mike Kirby spearheaded the ride. “The money will be split by all the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tennessee,” he said.

Lee said he appreciates how generous Blount County residents have been to the Boys and Girls Club over the years. “We’re going to keep on keeping on. This is a pothole in road, a big one, but the Blount County organization is taking aggressive steps to increase the bottom line on fundraising and asking individuals and corporations in Blount County to help us out,” he said.

For information about the Fifth Annual Challenge Cup Classic Golf Tournament, the Fourth Annual Boys and Girls Club Motorcycle Ride, or the “Cruising for our Club Kids” ride, call Kilgore at 865-388-7258 or Anna Beth Meccia at Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley at 865-248-1120.

Additional information on the state-wide ride can be found at cruisingforourclubkids.com for more information.

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