We live in a world where children are at an increasing risk of violence, poverty and discrimination. Given the dangers faced by young people, it is wonderful to know that an organization exists in our midst whose vision is to enable all young people, especially those who are most in need, to reach their full potential as productive caring and responsible citizens.
“Great futures start here” is the motto of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Eastern Piedmont (BGCEP), a part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which was founded over 150 years ago to provide school-aged children a professionally supervised, consistent environment where they are safe, equally accepted and able to participate in goal-oriented programs that enhance their self-esteem and assist them in achieving their full potential.
Any student who wants to join us is acceptable; nationwide, Boys and Girls clubs now serve 31 percent white children, 28 percent African-American, and 23 percent Latino. With an annual fee of only $20 per child, the Boys and Girls Clubs program is affordable for all children. Here is a really outstanding organization that everyone can celebrate! And there is a great need for one in Chapel Hill.
The BGCEP chapter began in Siler City in the summer of 2010. The program has been remarkably successful: the children have greatly surpassed their peers at state and national levels in such measures as avoiding involvement with law enforcement, reduction in fighting in school, reduction in school absenteeism, and an increase in the performance of community service projects. By June of this year, 20 of our students will have graduated from high school and all will continue their education; there are currently three alumni at UNC-CH, one at UNC Greensboro, one at UNC Charlotte, one at Pfeiffer University and one at Clark Atlanta.
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BGCA boasts a number of graduates known well to our readers, such as Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse,and James Worthy, and also includes luminaries such as Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt and Denzel Washington. It is no longer surprising, though it certainly is exciting, to find that more than 50 percent of ex-BGCA members have said membership in the Boys and Girls Club “saved my life.” A student at the Siler City club said, during a presentation to a local group, “When you see pictures of kids out on the streets – I would have been one of them had it not been for the Boys and Girls Club.”
BGCEP has begun a much-needed program in Chapel Hill. The school system has generously donated two classrooms in Northside Elementary School, and BGCEP started a program there in the spring semester of last year. At the start there were 17 students, and this school year there are an additional 16. The program is in full swing, and the children have already shown dramatic improvement in their performance.
Personnel from several schools are approaching the organization and requesting expansion into their schools, and a summer program for 2016 is being developed. Because of this, BGCEP is feeling growing pains because of the cost involved, such as adding additional professional staff if it does expand.
Currently in the U.S. there are over 15 million children who are left unsupervised after school, which is exactly when juvenile crime escalates. Chapel Hill suffers no less than other areas in this regard, and the type of structured time and support offered by the clubs, which are open every afternoon after school, not only help the children succeed, but also limit the opportunity for self-destructive behavior.
Everyone can help this extraordinary and important program. To grow and to succeed, a reliable and constant source of funding is needed. Please visit the website at http://www.bgcepnc.org/orange/ to learn more and to contribute generously to this effort.
Arthur L. Finn is a professor emeritus from the UNC School of Medicine and lives in Chapel Hill.
For more information including how to contribute go to http://www.bgcepnc.org/orange/