By Published On: December 13, 2023Categories: Holidays

Story By Kendyll Hollingsworth 

Photos By Robert Noles and Contributed By BGCEA

 

When local children need a helping hand, there are plenty of caring individuals ready to lift, support and help propel those children forward.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of East Alabama (BGCEA) — formerly known as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County — has been working since 1990 to provide children and teens in the area with a safe place to learn and grow. The three active clubhouses in Auburn, Opelika and on the road offer “caring adult mentors, fun and friendship and high-impact youth development programs” during the week outside regular school hours.

But what happens during the holidays? The BGCEA assured the community that support continues — even during those long school breaks.

“Magic happens in clubhouses every day, but around the holidays we make sure to provide young people with an elevated experience,” said Richard B. Curry Jr., president and CEO of the BGCEA.

As a former “club kid” himself, Curry said he understands firsthand how the Boys & Girls Clubs can have a profound impact on a child’s life. And there are many children out there who need that. Whether it’s through those long-standing programs or something new and special to the local clubs, all BGC organizations work to help children reach their full potential both now and in the future.

Here in Lee County, the BGCEA partners with the United Way of Lee County to serve more than 2,000 children through both membership and community outreach efforts. Though these children come from a wide variety of backgrounds, the goal is the same: to uplift every single child.

“We often say that Boys & Girls Clubs are well known but not known well,” Curry said. “So many people believe that we only serve young people from a certain demographic, or insert any other misconception, when in reality our mission is clear: ‘To inspire ALL young people.’

“… Every kid in every community could benefit from a Boys & Girls Club experience. Our motto is ‘When school’s out, the club is in’ and we are hopeful that as folks are exploring spring break camps and summer camps that they will think of us. We want the opportunity to serve your family and provide a ‘world-class club experience’ while doing it.”

While good character and leadership, academic success and healthy lifestyles are at the heart of what all Boys & Girls Clubs do, the recipe for a better life — both now and in the future — would be incomplete without a healthy dose of fun.

“Providing unique experiences is the driving force behind our youth development strategy,” Curry said.

During the holidays, the clubs offer such unique experiences as “Clubsgiving” and “A Clubhouse Christmas.”

For Clubsgiving, the BGCEA strives to provide a fun, fulfilling and memorable Thanksgiving experience for all its club members and their caregivers. But the BGCEA also wants it to feel extra special and contribute to that “home away from home” spirit, Curry said.

The same goes for A Clubhouse Christmas. But rather than focus on the material gifts that are often associated with Christmas, Curry said the BGCEA primarily seeks to give the gift of a great future.

“The world needs to know that hope is not canceled and that the simplest things make the greatest gifts,” he said. “If we all took the time to be who we needed as a child, the world would be a much better place, and it’s through that lens that I hope to see the community rally around young people at the club and for young people to know just how loved they truly are.”

These are long-standing traditions in Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation, Curry added, but there are still some special programs offered only to the youth involved in the BGCEA.

Last year, the BGCEA introduced one such new program to its youth — one that is sure to resonate with Lee County children in particular, year after year.

“In 2022, we started a new tradition in partnership with Auburn University Athletics, ‘Tiger Giveback Day,’ where elementary-aged club kids spend an evening getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a day in the life of a student-athlete,” Curry explained. “Starting with a city of Auburn police escort, members are chauffeured to the AU campus on Tiger Transit buses, and [the day ends] with a tunnel run into Jordan-Hare [Stadium] while being cheered on by AU cheerleaders with the fight song filling the air.”

In fact, Curry said the BGCEA gets many of these special ideas straight from the children and teens they serve.

“We believe in the power of choice, and a big part of our vision is to allow young people the opportunity to speak into their future,” he explained. “As the holiday season approaches, we will begin to ask club members how they would like to celebrate and be celebrated; from there, it’s our job to make their dreams a reality by transforming spaces.”

But achieving these goals and upholding the vision of the Boys & Girls Clubs wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of local volunteers. 

“When you volunteer at a Boys & Girls Club, you can make a difference in the lives of youth and give back to your community,” the BGCEA website reads. “Filled with the sounds and energy of spirited children and friendly, caring professionals, the Club is a fun and hopeful environment.”

The BGCEA is continuously seeking volunteers in several different areas, including everything from facility maintenance and administrative support to tutoring and special event support. So, if adults fear they are too short on time or talent, the BGCEA provides a place for everyone to contribute if they wish to do so. Find the volunteer application at www.bgceastal.org/volunteer.

“These young people are the only next generation we’ve got and with the support of our community, there is nothing this next generation can’t do,” Curry said. “While we can all agree that the world is complicated, helping kids is simple: We need individuals and businesses to invest in our mission with your time, talents and treasure. Now more than ever, young people need mentors and meaningful moments.”

At the end of the day, Curry said the success of these programs — and the people who make them happen — speaks for itself, helping club members to find their light and become shining members of society.

“Often, I think back to my own club experience as a child and my time at the Boys & Girls Club,” Curry said. “The friendships formed and lessons learned in areas like the games room prepared me for areas like the boardroom in my adult life. The beauty of Boys & Girls Club is that you learn without realizing that you’re learning, and you get to have fun while doing it. I am — and so many others — are proof that the club works.”

For more information about the Boys & Girls Clubs of East Alabama, including how to register a child, visit www.bgceastal.org or follow on Facebook, Instagram and X @bgceastal. The administrative office can also be reached at 334-502-1311 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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