Charles E. Richardson

Not the Boys & Girls Club I grew up in

There I sat, listening to the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Georgia, Phillip Bryant, talk about what’s going on with what will be six clubs come August. My mind, however, wandered a bit. I’ve played many a foosball game and bounced more than my share of basketballs in a Boys & Girls Club as a youngster. Bryant didn’t have to familiarize me with what goes on inside a club. Part of who I am was formed inside there. The club was part of the village that raised me.

But the Boys & Girls Clubs of 2016 are vastly different from the ones I grew up in although much of the same growing up takes place. Children still play foosball. They still play basketball and other games, but they also do homework and are tutored in subjects I don’t think I knew existed when learning how to run a fast break.

When I was coming up in California — and until recent memory here in Macon — the clubs operated out of one central location. That’s no longer the model. Two years ago when Bryant took over here, there were two Macon clubs and one in Warner Robins, but with the opening of school next month there will be six locations that will serve as many as 650 children a day. The goal is 1,000 a day by 2020.

The Macon clubs have been serving youth for 78 years. In 2015, the Macon and Warner Robins clubs served over 2,000 youngsters, according to their audit. There is more good news to share. The School of Public Health at the University of Michigan and the Institute for Social Research conducted a study, commissioned by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to see if the clubs nationwide had impact. What the researchers found, aside from improved grades of club members, was pure economics. For every $1 spent, the return was $9.60 in “current and future earnings, and cost savings to communities.” The local program spends $1.2 million in operating costs. Multiply that by $9.60. That’s so much better than spending $55 a day, per person, to keep someone locked up in the Law Enforcement Center.

Boys & Girls Clubs teach children how to be respectful and introduces them to avenues of life they might not have exposed to, from the Gear Up program to Smart Moves to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math). These programs at the clubs raise their proficiency levels and gets them ready for the future.

So what’s next? Bryant and his team understand the pressures families of 2016 face. Many aren’t just working one job, but two. The club provided an all-day summer program for $20 a week. Older ages were half price or free. This school year, a new program called Breaking the Chain will provide a snack and a hot dinner from S&S Cafeteria for their after-school members. They found many club members were hoarding after-school snacks to take home because it was the last meal they’d see that day. It’s not a free program, but it is such a deal at only $25 a month, and the annual membership fee remains $10.

In 1996 I wrote a column about a club event and I penned this paragraph, “Do Boys & Girls Clubs really work? You can look around; there are many answers to that question. I’m an answer. Dennis Dorsey (former county commissioner) is an answer. Gary Bechtel (present county commissioner) is an answer. Jeff Malone, Reggie “Doc’’ Manuel, Norm Nixon and Sharone Wright (Southwest High School basketball standouts and three starred in the NBA) are answers. You may be sitting next to an answer.”

I can’t say it any better today than I said it 20 years ago.