Saunders: Contributions can help Durham's children

bsaunders@newsobserver.comDecember 8, 2013 

As a police officer in Portland, Ore., Amy Parker told me Sunday, she saw lots of lost children.

Not only that, she added, she kept seeing many who later turned up dead.

“When I was on patrol, I could be talking to a young kid who was already in a gang or who was a third-generation gang member. Within hours, I would go back and that young kid I was talking to is now dead. I saw it so much.”

When she moved to Durham and become a deputy in the sheriff’s department, she said, the same students she’d see at the school where she worked as a resource officer were the ones she was arresting at night or seeing on the evening news.

“I wanted to know what I could do before it was too late,” she said.

What she did was join the parents advisory council of the John Avery Boys & Girls Club in Durham.

Her son, she said, has been going there for nearly four years, “and I wanted to be a part of it, more than just dropping my son off. Our kids know each other, but the parents didn’t.”

To rectify that, Parker, Idella Irons and other parents started an advisory council with help from the club’s new director, Jerome Levisy.

“A passion of mine,” Levisy said, “is to have parents involved, especially since we’re watching their children.”

“Passion” is a word he used a couple of times when we talked, as when I apologized for calling him late one evening to ask about the boys and girls club and its latest project.

“Any time is a good time to talk about this,” he explained. “This is my life’s work, my passion.”

He previously worked at boys and girls clubs in Henderson and Richmond, Va.

The biggest need at the club, he said, “is financial support for long-term sustainability.”

To break that down, the club needs moolah – and not the kind you get from grants and corporations.

“The grants, often, are hit-or-miss,” he said. “So is foundation support … We need the individual support,” which he called the most important source but which accounts for only 10 percent of its funding.

“For an organization that’s been around for 74 years, that should be easy” to increase individual giving, he said. “We’re getting some of it, but not enough. The demand for our services has doubled. We’re serving 130 kids a day and we have a long waiting list, but we’re just unable to serve those kids because we don’t have the resources.”

Those resources could increase – as well as the number of children the club can serve – if it raises enough money to qualify for a Stewards Foundation grant. That philanthropic group will give the Pettigrew Street club $100,000 if it raises $100,000 of new money by the end of the month. So far, Levisy said, it has raised $60,000 since the fund-raising drive began Oct. 1.

In addition to money – “We realize not everyone can give $1,000,” he said, “but more can give $10” – the club needs volunteers. One of those is former Duke Blue Devil and retired pro basketball player Cherokee Parks. Among the people who attribute some of their success to the organization are Mayor Bill Bell, state Rep. Mickey Michaux and Howard Clement, who just retired last month after 30 years on the Durham City Council and who remains the coolest Republican I’ve ever known.

There have been many, many notable athletes who came through Avery, too, but the main emphasis is on educating the young people who use its services.

“When they get here after school, the first thing we do is close the gym and shut down the computer room, except for homework,” Levisy said.

That emphasis on education is the primary reason, he said, students who attend the club generally perform better in school than those who don’t.

“Here’s a three-year trend analysis for you,” he said. “We have served over 1,500 teens in our programs, and we’ve not had a single pregnancy or contact with law enforcement. We’re serving teens – in the heart of Durham.”

Abe Lincoln is quoted as saying “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” To paraphrase that, no person stands so tall as when he or she digs into a pocket – and if you give $10 a month you don’t even have to dig that deeply – to help a wonderful organization that helps a child.

These are, as Levisy said, your children. The address is 808 E. Pettigrew St., Durham, 27701.

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My column-writing colleague Rob Christensen and I will be at Quail Ridge Book Store at 7:30 p.m. Monday to read and possibly explain some of our favorite columns and talk with you. or 919-836-2811

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