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Group organizes to save youths

Mary Thompson, a disabled grandmother of two, sat in church listening to the Sunday school teacher when the question was asked, &uot;What can we do to help our community?&uot;

The question stuck and the dream she’d been contemplating for the past two years came to mind: Greenville needs a Boys and Girls Club.

&uot;We’re losing our children,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;They have no guidance. So I called everyone I knew that might be interested in starting one. I wanted a place children could be tutored and receive guidance.&uot;

Thompson organized the first meeting last week in the annex of her church, Butler Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church.

&uot;We had about 20 people show up,&uot; she said. &uot;After that meeting, I contacted the Boys and Girls club executive director from Montgomery, Cedric Williams, who came to our second meeting.&uot;

&uot;We’re very excited about the idea of starting a club in Greenville,&uot; Williams said. &uot;But it’s going to take the whole community rallying behind this to get it started.&uot;

Williams said the Boys and Girls Clubs were different from many area after-school programs because the clubs concentrated on academics and counseling, instead of sports and game.

&uot;We will have sports and recreation,&uot; he said. &uot;But our main focus is to educate children about drug and alcohol use, teen pregnancy and gang violence. This will be a place children can come and hang out, have fun, play games and enjoy themselves while learning.&uot;

The exact programs, Williams said, would be offered depended on the needs of the community.

&uot;We don’t just come in and set up shop,&uot; he said. &uot;We need the community to come together and tell us what it wants. This is its club.&uot;

Williams said there was a long way to go before the club would be ready and could not say how much money would need to be raised.

&uot;We’re in the infancy state,&uot; he said. &uot;The next step is to meet with the county commission and city council at their next meetings to ask for their blessing to start this program. Then we need to form an advisory board to oversee things.&uot;

The group plans to form a board at its Dec. 10 meeting at the church.

&uot;The board will be made up of volunteers representing every aspect of the community &uot; Williams said, &uot;Then we will have a big city-wide meeting to let everyone voice their thoughts and concerns. At every step, the community will get to see what’s going on and where the money is going.&uot;

&uot;I’ve opened nine Boys and Girls clubs in Alabama and the response has always been wonderful,&uot; Williams said.

On average, he noted, the clubs drew about 200 children year-round.

&uot;The cost to the children is usually $10 for the entire nine months they are in school and $20 for the summer months,&uot; he said. &uot;But that also is entirely up to the board to setup.&uot;

&uot;We want to reach all children. They are all at risk.&uot;

Thompson said she was overjoyed at the enthusiasm of those she’s contacted so far and is already receiving offers and donations for the program.

Mayor Dexter McLendon said he had not spoken with Williams or Thompson about the project but was looking forward to hearing about it at the next city council meeting.

&uot;It sounds good to me,&uot; he said. &uot;If it helps our children, I’m all for it.&uot;

Councilman Jeddo Bell attended both meetings and said he believes the club will be a very good addition to the community.

&uot;The academic component really attracted my attention,&uot; he said. &uot;I think it will go over real well. It’s getting quite a bit of support already, but it’s going to require a lot of effort especially in raising funds.&uot;

&uot;I don’t know what we need yet,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;One of the first things, I think, would be to get an account at a local bank to receive donations. That would be a real help.&uot;

&uot;I’ve raised three children and they came out alright,&uot; she said. &uot;But I’m worried about my grandchildren. They are why I started this. My oldest, Ladarrian, is eight and an A-B student. I want to keep him that way.&uot;