February 2013: Charity Corner
Author: Michael Paskevich
Hugs, snacks and crucial support are in steady supply at the Bluffton Boys and Girls Club, courtesy of unit director Molly O. Smith and staff plus a cadre of community volunteers aware of the serious pressures facing today’s youngsters. Issues including gang violence, low self-esteem and substance abuse, absentee parents and peer pressure are ongoing threats and distractions for the young (age 6-18) charges that rely on the club for everything from educational support and tutoring to crucial adult role modeling that can keep them out of trouble and headed instead for success.
“Yes, it’s a very different world out there today for kids because of all the social changes,” said Smith of the nearly 600 children who are current members. “We are saving lives and serving the community.”
And the community is responding, as evidenced by $50,000 in recent donations to maintain and expand programs and overwhelming response to an upcoming fundraiser, “Evening Under the Oaks,” set for Saturday, March 9 at the refurbished clubhouse at Belfair. The benefit, in the works since last April, already is sold-out on paper (phone (843) 379-5430 for cancellations and sponsorship information) thanks to the co-chairing efforts of board members Nancy Vineburgh and Alison May. The event also marks the 15th anniversary of the club which, after humble beginnings in rundown mobile quarters, has blossomed to a 24,500-square-foot facility on 2.5 acres at 100 H.E. McCracken Circle near the Bluffton schools complex.
The expanding partnership between the club and community includes increased mentoring by volunteers, including local police, fire and military personnel who oversee an Explorer program for teens. Other programs focus on the national organization’s core values goals that include social recreation, the arts, education and volunteer work and technology. A newly added program for girls ages 8-17 called S.M.A.R.T., an acronym for skills mastery and resistance training, focuses on health, education and self-esteem, helping maintain a zero-pregnancy rate to date.
About 300 youngsters arrive each weekday (2:30-7 p.m.) from 14 area schools “and the first thing we do is have them put up their book bags, wash their hands and then get a healthy snack,” Smith said. “We are not school. They’re coming here because of the staff, and that’s where we’re having the biggest impact, giving off positive energy. If we can give kids a sense of belonging and usefulness, that will help make them well-rounded citizens, especially those who need it most.”
No longer is it just a matter of tossing kids a basketball and turning them loose. The club features separate rooms for quiet reading, dance and computer work in addition to a game room, workout areas and well-equipped gym. Teens have their own designated wing at the facility and, regardless of age, none is turned away because of an inability to afford dues that start at $60 a year. On Friday nights, the club opens its doors free of charge to all Bluffton area teens (an estimated 2,500) to provide them a safe place to hang out until midnight.
It’s not just a one-way street at the club with adults taking on all the essential duties. About 100 of the youngsters will be serving as escorts and entertainers at the oaks-themed gala at Belfair, helping fulfill the event’s subtitle garnered from a 14th Century proverb: “Great oaks from little acorns grow.”
For more information, visit bglowcountry.org.