By Curt Yeomans
Gail Buckner, and a small group of roughly one dozen supporters, including a state representative, want to drum up community support for a Boys and Girls Club in northeast Clayton County.
While the group still has to raise two years' worth of operating expenses, to show the national Boys and Girls Club organization there is a serious desire to establish a club in the area, it's organizers said community support will be vital to keeping it going.
The group met for the first time, at Morrow City Hall on Jan. 24, to gauge public interest in establishing the club.
"If a Boys and Girls Club is established in this area, we need to motivate parents to take ownership of it," said Buckner, one of the organizers of the Boys and Girls Coalition of Clayton County. "We need every school in this area, every parent group, every church, every citizen to get behind this."
The group has to raise $300,000 to establish a club in the northeastern portion of the county. The effort coincides with a separate movement, led in part by state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), which is seeking to establish a club in the county as well. Glanton was one of the attendees at the Boys and Girls Coalition of Clayton County meeting last week.
"I totally support this effort, and want you to know I'm here to help," Glanton said. "I'm interested in having a Boys and Girls Club in Clayton County, regardless of who starts it."
Buckner said the $300,000 equals two years of operating costs for a Boys and Girls Club, and the money needs to be in the coalition's hands before the national and Atlanta area branches of the organization will give the go-ahead to proceed with the establishment of a club.
"The bottom line is Boys and Girls Clubs of America is very protective of its name, and of the programs it offers," Buckner said. "The national organization wants to know this community will support it, rather than us not hanging a sign out, which says Boys and Girls Club on it, and having to close five, or six months later, because there was not enough money to cover the operating expenses."
Buckner said the first step is establishing a summer program, which she said will happen this summer. Glanton's group has organized Boys and Girls Club summer programs for the two last summers, and will likely host another program this year as well.
"We hope the other [Glanton's] program goes on, but we're going to have, at least, a second one this year," Buckner said.
Attendees at the Jan. 24 meeting were concerned they may not be able to get the community support needed to establish a boys and Girls Club, though.
"A lot of these parents don't speak English, so that will be a problem," said Terri Garcia, president of the Parent-Teacher Associations at Morrow Elementary and Morrow Middle schools. "There's such a huge cultural mix in Clayton County, getting those parents involved is going to be a huge hurdle to jump."
Buckner, and other attendees, responded by telling Garcia that a large number of the children participating in the two previous summer programs were from families where English was a second language.
"There are a lot of people who understand what a Boys and Girls Club is, and have a lot of respect for the programs offered by the organization," Buckner said.
Devadas Lynton, a Clayton County juvenile court officer, said the coalition needs to "create a buy-in process" for parents, in order to garner community support for a club.
"They are the elite in their field," Lynton said. "This is about getting a first-class youth organization here."
Mary Baker, a Jonesboro parent and co-organizer of the coalition, talked about visiting her family in rural Oregon and seeing a Boys and Girls Club in that area. She said if a rural area can get a club, then there is no reason why Clayton County residents can't work together to get one as well.
"If we don't actively push for it, we're never going to get it," Baker said.