Boys & Girls Clubs celebrate 75 years in Middle Georgia

alopez@macon.comNovember 2, 2013 

Anger issues dominated Malik Randall’s life by the time he was 13 years old. He fought constantly and got into trouble at school.

Now 17 and a junior at Southwest High School, he is the type of teenager to notice a schoolmate being bullied, talk to him and help lift his spirits.

He also spends a lot of time at the Carl D. Thomas Boys & Girls Club on Bloomfield Road in Macon’s Village Green neighborhood.

“Coming down here,” Malik said, “it changed me drastically.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, made up of the Carl D. Thomas club, the Murphy Felton Tindall club on Anthony Road and the Warner Robins club on Wallace Drive, serves more than 2,600 young people in after-school and summer programs every year in Bibb and Houston counties, said Lee Wagner, the president and CEO of the organization.

This year, the national nonprofit is celebrating 75 years in Middle Georgia. From humble beginnings, it has grown into a vital youth development organization with countless stories of successful alumni.

Its mission is simple: “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

Thomas Hudson, who teaches at Burghard Elementary School and tutors at the Carl D. Thomas club, takes the mission seriously.

“We’re saving lives,” Hudson said. “That’s what Boys & Girls Club is all about.”

Hudson works with middle school students during “power hour,” the time when the club focuses on academics. When his students don’t have homework, they work with a computer program called Kid’s College, which he said motivates them through sports games they can play after they answer math and reading questions. The program is responsive to individual students, which Hudson said is important because many students start out lagging in core subject areas.

Cathy Snook, the Central Georgia chapter’s vice president of development, said the club mostly serves at-risk children who are born into poverty. In Bibb County, just 52.3 percent of ninth-graders who started high school in 2008 graduated in 2012, and in Houston County, the graduation rate was 73.2 percent, according to the state Department of Education.

The graduation rate increases to 95 percent for young people enrolled in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, Snook said.

“Boys & Girls Clubs change the future of these children,” she said.

Georgia’s Youth of the Year

Tyler Ragin has her eyes on Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020.

Last week, she presented her plans of representing Macon as a member of the U.S. track and field team in the Olympics to a group of about 12 young people inside the game room of the Carl D. Thomas club, where she has been a member more than four years.

Tyler, 17, hasn’t been able to visit the club much this year because of her busy schedule as an academic and athletic star at Rutland High School.

Easily one of the fastest women in Macon, Tyler owns a personal best 100-meter dash time of 11.87 seconds (the fastest time this year by a high school female is 11.25 seconds, according to Track & Field News.) A long jump specialist, she claims a 40-inch vertical leap.

Academically, she also is on track to graduate this year in the top 10 percent of her class.

For her achievements and for her volunteer work, she was named the Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year for the state of Georgia. This summer, she will compete against eight other state winners for the regional title.

During her presentation last week, Tyler shared her experience taking Advanced Placement classes for college credit, visiting college campuses that are actively recruiting her, such as Georgia Tech and the University of Kentucky, and finding scholarships.

“You have to make sure you stay on your ‘A’ game,” she told the group.

A natural speaker, she smiles wide and weaves in the names of her friends in the audience in her speech, calling out Malik for his habit of joking around.

“Malik was a big deal for me,” Tyler said, referring to watching him mature over the past few years. “He was going through a lot more than I thought he was.”

She said they learned to trust each other and open up to each other about their lives.

“It made us more than friends, more like a family,” she said.

Roots reach back to Macon police cadets

Seventy-five years ago, in 1938, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia started with just 12 boys who were called the Macon Police Cadets.

In 1941, the name changed from the Police Cadets to the Young Americans.

It was around this time that a 10-year-old Ed DeFore, who has spent more than 40 years on the Macon City Council and will be a charter member of the Macon-Bibb County Commission, joined the club.

DeFore remembers using old baseballs held together by black electrical tape to play ball.

“We played with them like they were new,” he said.

Mercer University law students mentored him and his brother, he said, and he learned to play several sports. DeFore said those experiences fueled his desire to make recreation a priority in Bibb County.

“I’m just repaying my debt,” he said. “I want to give back.”

The Boys’ Club of America (the national organization changed its name to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1990) chartered the Macon club in 1944.

In 1949, the club celebrated the opening of its landmark location at 1527 Second St., which was demolished earlier this year after closing in 2002. By 1953, membership had swelled to 450 members.

Today, beside the three locations in Bibb and Houston counties, the clubs offer after-school programs at Hartley and Riley elementary schools in Macon through a partnership with those schools.

Meanwhile, the Warner Robins club is able to serve more young people than ever this year thanks to a move by the Warner Robins City Council to make the facilities on Wallace Drive available to the program.

Councilman Daron Lee said the driving force was to support youth development in that area.

“It will keep them out of trouble,” he said. “We can help change their mindset so they can grow up to be the leaders they were created to be.”

From the Boys & Girls Clubs to the NFL

Kareem Jackson plays cornerback for the Houston Texans, but before he made it to the National Football League, he was part of a talented group of young men who spent lots of time playing sports at the Boys & Girls Club formerly on Second Street.

Harold Hatcher, site director for the Carl D. Thomas club -- who is celebrating 25 years with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia -- witnessed the boys’ transformation into men.

“Kareem used to jump on my back every chance he got just to try to get a piggy-back ride,” Hatcher said. “He was a speedy kid who was very athletic in all sports.”

Hatcher walks the halls during “power hour,” high-fiving staff members and interacting with the children he finds.

“Looking good!” he yells in a booming voice. The kids know to yell the phrase right back to him.

During recreation time outside the club, he drops back and tosses footballs to pint-sized receivers. Quick with a smile, he also is known for his passion for cookouts.

Alexander Wyche, an Atlanta science teacher and former college baseball standout, remembers Hatcher leading the club in hymns and songs every morning during the summer in the early 2000s.

“He helped raise me and Kareem,” Wyche said.

The two boys spent all day in the club during the summer, he said.

“Sports kept us out of the streets, kept us humble and kept us working hard,” Wyche said.

Though he works as a teacher full time and owns a cleaning company, Wyche partners with Jackson, whom he calls his best friend, for several charity events in Macon.

In March, for instance, Jackson hosted a celebrity basketball game at Westside High School with proceeds benefitting the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Wyche, who in 2010 led the NCAA in stolen bases at Armstrong Atlantic University, runs a free baseball camp in Macon.

“A lot of kids need those type of mentors,” he said, “just showing them that folks can make it out of Macon, just like anywhere else, and be successful.”

‘The best deal in town’

Membership in the Boys & Girls Clubs costs young people between the ages of 6 and 18 just $5 per year. During the school year, they typically arrive at about 4 p.m. and are picked up by their parents by 6, while teenagers can stay until about 7, said Wagner, the clubs’ CEO.

During the summer, camp programs run morning to evening and typically cost $50 for eight weeks, Snook said. The summer program is heavily staffed and offers snacks, activities and field trips, she said. Because most summer camps cost a lot more, she said, the programs fill up far in advance.

“If you look at the cost associated with being in the Boys & Girls Clubs, I like to think we’re the best deal in town,” Wagner said.

Wagner said the clubs can keep fees low thanks to the generosity of the community.

Along with individual contributions, the clubs receive donations from local foundations and receive money from the United Way.

“And we’re always proactively seeking grant dollars,” he said.

Hatcher said he’d like more financial support so the clubs can do even more for their members.

“You have to provide resources where the young people are,” he said.

He said he wants the clubs to offer more field trips throughout the year, citing the success of trips in the past to places like Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and the Bahamas.

“This is one of the toughest neighborhoods in Bibb County,” Hatcher said, referring to Village Green, which is known for its high crime rate. “But we want scholars coming out of here.”

Malik lives across the street from the Carl D. Thomas club.

“It gives me somewhere to go besides the streets,” Malik said, “and keeps me from hanging out with the wrong crowd.”

He envisions himself going to college and majoring in business, because he wants to run his own company. Two weeks ago he took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and sees the military as a good option for him.

Malik loves his Boys & Girls Club so much that he often helps out by mopping or cleaning the bathrooms.

“Good kids don’t grow on trees,” Hatcher said. “They have to be developed. Malik has opened himself up to be developed.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service