By Johnny Jackson
Thirteen-year-old Joshua Thomas is spending his summer vacation exploring new activities, and developing new friendships, according to his mother, Christina Iler.
Iler recently enrolled her three children -- Joshua and his younger siblings, Bryanna Iler, 5, and Rodney Iler, 6 -- in the Boys and Girls Club of Griffin Summer Program, which currently includes about a dozen Henry County youngsters and 70 area youths, according to club officials.
The McDonough mother said the Griffin club is the closest to her family. So, she travels nearly 20 miles one-way to get her children to the club's facilities. She said the daily trip is worth the drive, because it offers her children something productive to take part in while they are out of school.
"It is out of the way, but I like the activities they have the kids involved in, and I like that it was affordable," Iler said. "I'm originally from Maryland, and I moved to Locust Grove 5 years ago. We used to go to a Boys and Girls Club in Maryland."
The Griffin club was created in 1998 as a charter member of the Boys and Girls Club of America, and is made available to Henry County youths, according to Boys and Girls Club of Griffin Executive Director Jennifer Parker.
"It provides a safe and creative place for children to learn and grow while giving their parents peace of mind to get back to work in our community knowing their children are well taken care of," said Parker.
The executive director said she hopes participants in the club's summer program will be positively impacted by the residual effects of keeping young people active and engaged in productive learning experiences.
"Unfortunately, our community has seen, recently, the negative effects of gang activity and drug use," Parker said. "And as the economy still struggles to regain balance, we are seeing higher ... high school dropout rates, teen pregnancy, and unemployment.
"We have to reach these children as early as possible to help their parents and our school system[s] steer them in a positive direction that emphasizes education, responsibility, and the consequences of our actions," added Parker.
Boys and Girls Club of Griffin volunteer, Ron Anderson, of McDonough, said the club's summer camp program incorporates several activities that help mold youths into residents who value education and responsibility.
Anderson said those participating in the club's summer program, for instance, will learn team work during various camps this summer. "They learn to build fires [together]," Anderson said. "They learn how to fish and go swimming, and have all types of physical activities."
Parent Christina Iler said her children have also come home with stories about what they've learned at basketball and baseball camps offered through the Boys and Girls Club of Griffin. "My kids, they say they wish they could go all year round," Iler said. "For the 13-year-old, it keeps him out of the streets during the day, to be involved in the Boys and Girls Club.
"If he wasn't in the Boys and Girls Club," she said, "he would be playing video games and going out into the street to play with friends -- basically, trying to find his own activities until I come home from work.
"My 13-year-old actually loves it," she continued. "It's like the encouragement and the mentors there make him excited. I think kids need that encouragement."