0

Planning continues for county-wide Boys & Girls Clubs

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

While a Boys & Girls Club has already been established for students at Riverdale Elementary School, a more traditional club for all children in the county remains on the agenda for local and regional officials.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta Regional Vice-President Lisa Eaves said the organization has marked Clayton County as a high-need area because the county still lacks a traditional club. The club at Riverdale Elementary School was established as a "Clubs in Schools" pilot program, but the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta still wants to see a club established in the county to serve children ages 6 to 18, Eaves said.

Eaves said the club at Riverdale Elementary School is a "launching pad" for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta to see how future clubs will be established in the county.

"We're committed to having multiple traditional, as well as school-based, clubs in Clayton County," Eaves said. "It will take the citizens and elected officials working together to raise the funds needed to start a club. We're interested in serving the children of the county."

Eaves said there are currently two groups seeking to establish Boys & Girls Clubs in Clayton County. One is the Clayton County Boys & Girls Club Advisory Board, and the other is the Clayton County Boys & Girls Foundation. She said groups seeking to establish a Boys & Girls Club have to raise at least $250,000 before the club can open its doors.

The money covers startup costs and the first year of operating expenses, Eaves said.

Starting a club in Riverdale

Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, a member of the Clayton County Boys & Girls Club Advisory Board, said the group is focused on making sure the club at Riverdale Elementary School is successful. She added, however, that the board's goal is to eventually establish a club for a broader age-range of children in the Riverdale area. The board is in the early planning stages for such a club, she said.

Wynn-Dixon said improving the quality of life in Riverdale was one of her main campaign platforms when she ran for mayor in 2007. She said she felt having a Boys & Girls Club in the city would be one way to improve Riverdale, based on personal experiences. When Wynn-Dixon's three sons and her daughter were children, she said she sent them to a Boys & Girls Club every day after school.

"It gave them organizational skills, and structure," Wynn-Dixon said. "They were in a safe haven, so I could go to work and school while they were at the Boys & Girls Club."

Riverdale's mayor also said having a Boys & Girls Club in the city, like the one at Riverdale Elementary School, will help families that may not have the money to send their children to more expensive after-school programs. "If you're a struggling parent, and you only have to pay $35 dollars per year for membership in a club that can offer all of these services, you can't beat it," she said.

Moving closer in Morrow

State Sen. Gail Buckner (D-Morrow), one of the Clayton County Boys & Girls Foundation's organizers, said the establishment of a Boys & Girls Club in Clayton County has long been a goal for local residents. She said there have been at least two efforts in the past to establish a club in the county, but they were ultimately unsuccessful because of difficulties in finding a potential club location.

"Clayton County has a critical need for a Boys & Girls Club," Buckner said. "Children need the experience they can provide through their educational programs."

The Clayton County Boys & Girls Foundation is currently working to establish such a club in the Morrow area. Buckner said the group has identified a church next to Morrow Elementary School as a possible site. The foundation raised approximately $5,000 during last weekend's "Walk for Clayton County's Boys & Girls," Buckner said. She said the financial donations from the event are still being collected.

The foundation's more than 200 volunteers are currently preparing for a larger-scale fundraising walk, which will be held in October, Buckner said. She said she believes a Morrow-based club could open its doors within the next two years.

"We still have a long ways to go, but we're hoping to have a club open soon," Buckner said.

Setting the tone

While the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta oversees the club at Riverdale Elementary, and would oversee any future clubs, all Boys & Girls Clubs are run as separate entities, club officials said.

Still, the clubs are linked by the common theme of stressing academics, health and leadership to children in the community.

"That's something our county needs, and if we can set the tone and make our club an example for other clubs in the county, then we've done something to improve our community," Riverdale Elementary School Principal April Madden said. "My biggest thing is it's here to serve children. I'm glad to serve as the first [club] in that case."

While Buckner said the club at Riverdale Elementary School will remain separate from the potential club which may be established in either Riverdale or Morrow, she said children will benefit from having several clubs in the county.

"It means children are going to have better opportunities to have a safe place to have fun and a positive educational experience," Buckner said. "It's just an enhancement of their daily lives."

Wynn-Dixon said multiple clubs would also mean children in the county would have more options. "You can't just say 'You can't do this,' or 'You can't do that,'" she said. "We've got to give them an alternative to the streets."