Five years ago, Stephen Kalokoh’s mother had to persuade him to join the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County. He didn’t think he needed a babysitter.
“I had a teenager mindset of, ‘I don’t want to be in a daycare after-school program, Mom,’ ” said Kalokoh, now 17, who added that he hung out with the wrong crowd in middle school and was a “troubled youth.”
But today, Kalokoh gives tours of the club’s Teen Center on Raleigh Boulevard, and he was recently named Youth of the Year for Wake County, one of the group’s highest awards.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County are celebrating their 50th anniversary, marking half a century of giving children a safe place to play sports, do homework and surround themselves with positive peers and adults.
The nonprofit serves 5,000 children, many of them from low-income families, at seven sites – five in Raleigh, one in Zebulon and one in Wake Forest. Families pay $7.50 a year to join.
Recently, the group wrapped up a $12 million capital campaign, and it hopes to serve an additional 2,000 children and open an eighth site. Leaders have not identified a location, but they are considering areas in Wake where families have the most needs, including Southeast Raleigh, said CEO Ralph Capps.
Local Boys & Girls Clubs leaders have spent the past five decades trying to figure out how best to meet children’s needs. The group opened the Ralph E. Capps Teen Center, known as “The Club,” in 2014. It features a hair salon, fitness center, art studio and more.
Last year, the Wake County school system decided to stop offering after-school bus service to club sites. So the group began to offer its own bus service, transporting about 500 students from 11 schools to clubhouses each day.
The local Boys & Girls Clubs also began offering meals last year at some sites. Over the summer, when kids don’t have access to meals at school, the group served about 30,000 meals, Capps said.
While the group aims to help young people stay on track, it’s not all serious.
“The main attraction to the club is fun,” said Capps, who has led the Wake County group for 43 years. “We are called a character-building organization. We have 5,000 kids, and I don’t know any that joined to have their character built. They join for fun because they want to do something.”
The first Boys Club began in 1860 in Hartford, Conn., when three women decided to offer a positive alternative to young boys who roamed the streets.
The movement grew, and now 4,175 clubs serve about 4 million kids across the nation. While the original clubs served only boys, the national group changed its name to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1990.
The original Raleigh club opened in 1966 on Lane Street downtown and was one of the first Boys Clubs in the South that served both black and white children from the start, Capps said.
Now the group is looking for ways to better serve Hispanic families. Many of the children who attend the Brentwood Club on New Hope Church Road in Raleigh are Hispanic, and many of the staff members are bilingual.
With a $3.5 million operating budget, the local organization has 37 full-time employees and depends on a corps of volunteers to help.
‘Like a big family’
Kalokoh quickly began to enjoy his time at the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“Everybody was so friendly and it was like a big family,” he said.
Kalokoh is a senior at Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy, and he’s already taking college classes. He hopes to attend law school and become a district attorney.
He attributes much of his success to the club for teaching him to be a leader.
Kalokoh said some of his peers from middle school have ended up in jail. His friends at the club, he said, are thinking about college and careers.
Knopf: 919-829-8955, @tayknopf