Great Futures Campaign kicks off for local youth clubs

On behalf of the youth in Saline County, three local Boys & Girls Clubs have joined the National Great Futures Campaign for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which kicked off today.

In an announcement on the organization's website, the group notes: "America's kids are in crisis. Our nation's state of poor academic performance, obesity, drug use and youth-related violence are cause for alarm and national action. A key component of the solution is out-of-school time. Yet every day, 15 million kids, 1 in 4, leave school with no place to go, putting them at risk of being unsupervised, unguided and unsafe.

"Today, Boys & Girls Clubs of America launches the Great Futures Campaign to call attention to the crisis facing kids and redefine the opportunity equation by elevating the role of out-of-school time in reversing these negative trends."

Emmy Rogers, director of development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Saline County, says the facilities in Benton and Alexander are on board with the national effort; and Karissa Stephens, resource development coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club of Bryant, says that with the help of local businesses, the Bryant club continues to grow and improve facilities to meet the need of the children they see every day.

"Through this national campaign, Boys & Girls Clubs everywhere seek to achieve the following movement-wide outcomes for kids — increase the number of globally competitive graduates, encourage and foster 21st century leaders, and lead our youth to a healthier generation," Rogers said.

"We see these success stories every day because we are immersed in our members' lives," Rogers added. "The Great Futures campaign is going to bring this awareness nationwide so everyone understands the important role that Boys & Girls Clubs play in the future of our youth. "We have so many great examples of the benefit of the club’s programs and services," she said.

As examples, she mentioned Jamol and Jamel Jones. "Jamel is in the Army now, and Jamol works in the corporate world for Walmart. Their sentiments say it better than we ever could. The impact is right here in our backyards, right where the need is. You can join the Great Futures movement and make a difference."
Jamol Jones is a regular member of the club on Cox Street in Benton.

“I am a product of the Saline County Boys & Girls Club," he said. "Had it not been for the club and its staff, my brothers and I would have withered away. So, thank you! Thank you for investing in me when no one else would. Thank you for challenging me to always challenge the status quo and to exceed society's expectations for my future. Because of you, I am gratefully living the future you told me I deserved!”

His brother, Jamel, also says the club was crucial to his development as an individual.

“Thank you, Saline County Boys and Girls Club, for investing in me. You not only helped me grow, but you gave me life," he said. "I am forever grateful.”

Stephens recently conducted a tour of the Bryant facility in Bishop Park.

"We have several activities and programs for our members." she said. Recently, through GIF funding, the concessions area of the club was renovated.

"The work began at the beginning of the summer. With the assistance of GIF (Growth and Innovation Fund) funding of obtained through Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, Rep. Ann Clemmer and Rep. Kim Hammer, we are able to add new flooring, create a divider wall and increase the capacity to serve members in the room by 30 percent."

Stephens reports that the club has more than 700 members enrolled and serves an average of 450 youth at the club each day.

On the upper floor of the Bryant club, a computer room renovation has been completed.

"We are grateful to Chris and Adelle Holmes for sponsoring the renovation and the computer room," Stephens said. "It is a quiet place for members to use the computers and learn new skills."
Down the hall from the computer room is an art room where pottery classes were being held on the day of the tour. A team room for members in grades 6 though 8 was filled with members dancing to a video game, playing pool and talking in groups.

"There are kids who come through the doors of the club and their stories touch your heart," Stephens said. "We have kids who may not have food when they go home each day, so we do what we can to help them. We have the support of a wonderful community and with their assistance, we are able to do the extra things that make a difference with these kids."

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Saline County includes a facility in Alexander and the main branch on Cox Street in Benton. In August, the club's annual banquet will feature a concert by country music artist Justin Moore of Poyen.

At the banquet, a new video with the Great Futures theme will debut. It will be broadcast on social media the following day.

In December, a celebration is planned for the organization's 45th anniversary in Benton.

Both organizations feel the work done at the clubs is a great benefit to the county. However, both groups also note that the support of the community is appreciated and crucial for continued success.

Local businesses and organizations interested in partnering with one of the local clubs may call Emmy Rogers at the Benton club at 501-315-8100. For Karissa Stephens in Bryant, call 501-213-5203.