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Boys & Girls Club group seeks start

There is group of proactive individuals who have been working together recently to invest in the most valuable asset of the community — its children.

In a day and age where temptation and peer pressure can often times be an insurmountable obstacle to some adolescents, the group feels it’s more important than ever to provide the resources to help them overcome.

For years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) have been doing just that by enriching communities and providing youngsters with the guidance, support and knowledge they need to steer clear of trouble and become healthy productive citizens. But for kids in Pike County, the welcoming doors of the BGCA have never existed.

“I think Troy is actually the largest city in Alabama without a Boys and Girls

Club,” said Gary Fox, a KW plastics employee and children’s’ author.

He told that to the Troy City Council alongside one of his key allies, Lonnie Groomes, the Executive Director at the Ozark Boys & Girls Club.

“These kids are missing out, they need this,” Groomes said.

Fox came to Troy seven years ago from northern Alabama where he helped start a Boys & Girls Club from the ground up. It has been in the back of his mind to do the same for Pike County ever since.

“Having been a part of it, it’s hard to describe,” he said. “That first day when you open the doors and the kids come in there, it’s a wonderful thing.”

Fox decided it was time for those doors to open in Troy.

“I sent an e-mail to the mayor last November,” he said.

Mayor Jimmy Lunsford was supportive so Fox went to work formulating a focus group.

A battalion of community leaders who work on the front lines with troubled youth banded together.

Assistant District Attorney Scherryl Harrison was one of them. Having worked in juvenile justice for several years, Harrison has seen first hand the undesirable road traveled by misguided youth. And many times it’s a one-way street.

“Now I’m starting to see them in adult court,” she said.

Harrison prefers the preventive method of crime fighting that is facilitated by the BGCA.

“Rather than locking them up we show them another way…I think that’s what the Boys & Girls Club will do for us.”

Harrison, Fox and Groomes have been joined by many others including City Councilmen Johnny Witherington and Jason Reeves, Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith and Parks and Recreation Director Dan Smith.

And behind the focus group is a slew of others that have pledged their support.

The City Council and the Sherrifs department; the County Commission and the District Attorney’s office; Troy University football coach Larry Blakeney and some of his former players; all of them have agreed that a Boys and Girls Club in Pike County has been a long time coming.

“Whoever I’ve asked, they all seem to be in support of this project,” Harrison said.

Housing authority officials Ken Vaughn and Shelby Tuck were no exception. The two have played a vital role in securing the building that would ultimately be the organization’s home base.

Serving a mission similar to the BGCA, the Joel Witherington Life Center looks to be the perfect spot for the club.

“You’ve got the elementary school up the road,” Groomes said.

“That’s a great location.”

Proximity aside, the price can’t be beat with the Troy Housing authority handing over the keys free of charge.

Of course an established location is only the beginning of a successful Boys & Girls Club. The lifeblood of the organization is the programs and its sponsors and the staff who put them to action.

The BGCA has a system in place to make that a smooth process for its fledgling affiliates.

“They prefer that clubs go with another organization to help them get started up,” Groomes said.

And it is Groomes’ own Boys and Girls Club of Ozark who will lead the Troy branch through its early stages.

“We want to be a help however we can because it’s all about the kids,” he said.

And Fox said he welcomes that assistance.

“It seems at this point we would really benefit from the guidance of the Ozark Boys & Girls Club,” he said. “Until we grow and kind of break out on our own, a lot of the things we do will fall under the board of directors in Ozark.”

Seasoned difference makers in Ozark will train their Pike County counterparts to direct numerous programs for kids.

Helping with homework, career planning, dance lessons, sports, nutrition, technology, drug prevention, community involvement, self respect, etiquette and financial planning are just some of the programs that will be available. Ozark will teach local mentors how to teach those lessons in a fun way that reaches young people.

Before anything happens though, the club itself must be established. To make that happen the focus group has plenty of work to do.

In a Friday meeting they discussed plans moving forward including the identification of revenue streams and some fundraising ideas.

Fox presented a preliminary estimated budget, which will be necessary when the group begins to apply for grants and solicit local governments and lawmakers for assistance.

The club would be eligible for automatic funding from the United Way and be all but a shoo-in for funding from sources like the Alabama Alliance Grant. Fox said he expected a steady income once the program got off the ground.

“It’s kind of like the Kevin Costner movie,” he said, “if you build it they will come.”

Except Costner’s field of dreams would instead be a dream come true for many kids in Pike County.

Groomes said that is precisely what happened in Ozark.

“It really made a big difference here, there’s so many programs and activities that are available to kids that normally wouldn’t be.”

Harrison said she is ready for Pike County kids to have those opportunities.

“It’s important because of what it will do for our children,” Harrison said.

“I’m really excited about it.”

She also said the adults in the community are ready.

“I think we have that kind of community where the citizenry is willing. This is a wonderful asset to a community that loves its children. I think this is the right time. We have the right attitude and tone in our community right now.”

The focus group hopes it’s the right time as they have set January 2011 as a target date to open the club.

“I really believe we can see a club in Troy by January,” Fox said. “That may be aggressive, but we have a building and a source for volunteers.”

Troy University is projected to be a significant advantage for the program as it provides resources such as interns and grant writing teams.

But the goal is for the Boys & Girls Club to be a community provider itself. The BGCA estimates that every dollar invested into local clubs saves three dollars in the long run, keeping kids off the street and out of jail.

“It costs $30,000 a year for detention center, and it’s about $300 a year to put a kid in the Boys & Girls Club,” Groomes pointed out.

That’s $300 well spent according to Groomes, who knows firsthand.

He grew up going to a club.

And Fox just wants to make that possible for kids here.

“I’m just a guy interested in in starting a Boys and Girls Club in Troy,” he said. “It’s a tremendous need in our community, I’m excited about it and I hope we can get it going.”