Macon youth charity Campus Clubs parts ways with director

An acclaimed Macon-based youth charity and its director are parting ways after having difference of opinions on the direction of the nonprofit organization.

Campus Clubs Inc. and Director Tony Lowden decided to “part ways amicably during a meeting Tuesday, and we wish him well,” said Macon attorney Jay Hawkins, director of the charity’s governing board.

A new youth ministry, separate from Campus Clubs, will be established, Lowden said, at the Booker T. Washington Center, 391 Monroe St., in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

In a written statement, the charity thanked Lowden for his time with Campus Clubs and pledged to support Lowden’s future youth work.

Lowden, 48, said he would remain in his position until early October as Campus Clubs transitions programs and brings in new leadership. Lowden has been working with Campus Clubs since early 2007, and he has lived in Macon for five years.

“Our goal is to continue to help the kids. There is so much to be done, and Campus Clubs has been good to me and the kids and this community, but it is time, unfortunately, due to a difference in directions, for me to move on and work to begin a new ministry,” Lowden said Wednesday.

Campus Clubs has grown from about 30 children participating in after-school programs when it first started in 1994 to more than 500 today.

It also has garnered more and more federal and state money, “which brings more guidelines and rules and there are some that are concerned about that, but we are not going to water down the spiritual side of this,” Lowden said.

“We are here to help teach the kids and show them a better life, but we are not going to water down the moral side of our programs,” he said.

The charity has drawn praise from former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts from Oklahoma, who is now a political activist and lobbyist. Watts came to Macon to speak at the Campus Clubs banquet this spring, garnering more than $190,000 for the charity.

According to Internal Revenue Service records, Campus Clubs has received about $220,000 a year in donations and grant money over the past five years.

The new ministry had yet to be named, Lowden said, but will work with the Bibb County Department of Family and Children Services, the Economic Opportunity Council and private groups such as 100 Black Men.

Campus Clubs and the Bibb County DFACS ran a summer camp for about 700 Bibb County students in June and July. The camp got more than $1.5 million as a one-time federal stimulus grant, said Marjorie Almand, director of Bibb County DFACS.

“There had been some concerns about the possibility of violating federal guidelines and religion,” Almand said. “There have been no complaints, but there are federal rules that guide what types of religious activities and worship that can be associated with programs that receive federal money.

“There will be spirituality associated with this program still, but we will remain within what is governed by our (U.S.) Constitution.”

Almand said there had been no complaints about religious activities associated with Campus Clubs or the summer camp.

The state and federal grant money already allocated for Campus Clubs will remain, Hawkins said.

“The money that is there now will remain with Campus Clubs,” he said.

However, Lowden said he “hopes the First Presbyterian Church will do the right thing and allow some of the resources dedicated to be with the kids go with them to this new ministry.” First Presbyterian is the parent organization of Campus Clubs.

To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494.