Someone — or rather something — is turning 50.
Local nonprofit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland plans to celebrate 50 years of youth-oriented services to the community at Monday night’s annual board member banquet.
Executive Director Charles Sutton reviewed the 50 years of service with pride.
“We are an organization invested in the future of the kids,” Sutton said. “We want to make sure they have the tools and support needed to make it through school.”
There are currently seven units established within the Cleveland and Benton area. These include the aptly named Benton and Cleveland State units, along with the James H. Tucker, Reba M. Powers, George Johnson Teen, Blythe and L. Harlan Painter units.
The club originally opened as the Boys Club of Cleveland on June 1, 1964, in the old Moore’s Funeral Home.
Sutton explained the initial focus was on sports and recreational pursuits. Boys flocked to the club. Locals still remember their time on the club’s football and basketball teams. There were 800 members by 1966. Club leaders challenged themselves to stretch the $27,166 budget.
Board members, including the first president Harold Ray, worked hard to solicit funds from local individuals and industries.
According to “A Brief History of Local Boys Club” by Morris Greene, work finished on the first building in December of 1969 for $250,000.
The Powers Unit became the second club location in 1989. Additional club openings then happened in a short period of time: Cleveland State, 2003; teen center, 2004; Blythe, 2007; Painter, 2007; and Benton, 2008.
Sutton explained the 90s brought a dramatic shift to the club.
First, the Boys Clubs of Cleveland became the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland in 1992.
Second, an emphasis shifted from sports and recreational pursuits to five emphases: academic success; character development; health and life skills; sports, fitness and recreation; and arts.
Explained Sutton, “What you can’t have is sports and recreation being the spearhead of what we do, and then expect [youth] to go out into the workforce without the skills needed to succeed.”
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s response to the five initiatives resulted in a strengthened investment in the future of the young members. Sutton said staff ensure students complete school assignments. It is a part of their job to make sure kids are on track to graduate from high school.
Approximately 4,778 youths are served through community events and daily operations hosted by the local club. Current statistics boast 2,042 members split among the seven units. Daily attendance averages out to 373 youth per day.
Sutton listed the club’s proudest moments from recent years:
- BGCC alumni Ronnie Jenkins, Clyde McGuire, Ed Deming and Lonnie Grooms joined the club at a national level.
- The organization held a re-grand opening ceremony for the James H Tucker & George Johnson Teen Center in February of 2004.
- Club member Maria Hernandez competed in Washington D.C. as part of the National Youth of the Year in 2010.
- Meeri Shin followed Hernandez’s accomplishment with a follow-up visit to D.C. in 2013 to compete in the National Youth of the Year competition.
According to Sutton, the impact of the club on the local youth can change futures.
He said the goal of the club is to not only continue to provide great experiences for members but to increase the number of youth impacted.
Sutton encouraged the community to become involved and be a part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s story.
“The true way is to become investors in the lives of our kids futures. When they invest, it will pay back dividends,” Sutton said. “As opposed to becoming involved with juvenile delinquency and criminal activity, they are going to be a part of academic success and be a part of the opportunities that come to Bradley County.”
A celebration of the club’s 50 years will take place Monday night.