Teen center director Wyatt Bevis labeled the two-day event a success.
Bevis added, “We went from just touching kids in Cleveland to impacting the entire state of Tennessee and part of Northwest Georgia. We really want to expand it to impact our region.”
The conference originated from a grant awarded the club by the city. The grant dictated an event be held every year for teenagers in sectors one and two. Discussion focused on violence prevention and leadership.
Bevis said he wanted to do something impactful for the entire state after focusing on Cleveland for four years.
A cap was set at the Cleveland club. Bevis permitted 60 teenagers to attend. Clubs throughout Tennessee began to call with their numbers of 10, 15, 20 and more. It was exciting to receive such a positive response from the clubs.
Money was raised to cover the costs for the young members and staff. Local benefactors Darden Restaurants, Proctor & Gamble, Check into Cash, Buffalo Wild Wings and Brooks Screen Printing donated to the cause. The money paid for an event at the Ocoee Retreat Center on a Friday and Saturday.
The 200 students were split into five teams. Eight Boys & Girls Clubs staff members monitored each team. Approximately 70 were needed for the entire weekend.
The teenagers were a little unsure of each other at first.
“When we first all came there Friday night, they had their shirts, but they were sitting with their organization,” Bevis said. “So, you would see [BGC club] back here with all these kids with different colored shirts. By the end of Saturday, they were sitting in their groups and having fun. They didn’t want to leave.”
Friday night was filled with check-in, dinner, an inspirational rapper from Alabama, Buffalo Wild Wings food and silly games.
Saturday began with one of four activities: an adventure mud race challenge, capture the flag, paintball, or a high ropes course. Those who were uninterested in these activities had the option of going to a commons area to play volleyball or badminton, or maybe engage in games like the three-legged race. The groups chose a second activity following lunch.
Each activity aided the young members in gaining new skills in leadership and teamwork.
Three speakers joined the conference Saturday. These guests informed the teens of postsecondary opportunities and how to reach one’s potential, as well as sharing personal stories of obstacles and triumph. Each speaker received an appreciative response from the enthusiastic crowd.
An award ceremony marked the end of the two-day conference. Staff on each team chose winners for awards in leadership, teamwork and overall. Door prizes, like Beats headphones and Android tablets, were also given out Saturday.
Participants responded well to both the material and surroundings of the conference.
“We had a lot of kids who had never [been] camping before, so that is an experience right there,” Bevis said. “Getting out of their element to see a different part of the world. Some of them have never been to the Ocoee River.”
One story in particular sticks out in his head.
“I remember one kid who was from Nashville,” Bevis recalled. “He was standing outside … and another staff member asked him why he was standing outside. He was just kind of looking up and he said, ‘I’ve never seen this many stars before.’”
Wyatt expressed an interest in expanding the conference from Tennessee to every state in the Boys & Girls Clubs Southeast region. The goal is to eventually max out the 600-person capacity at the Ocoee Retreat Center. It has already been booked by Bevis for April 2015.