More than 25 years of supporting the dream.
When the bell rings and school is out for the day, there is palpable excitement as children leave their classrooms and exit school. It is at that time a buzz begins around the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City.
Youth development professionals, or YDPs, finish last-minute preparations and take their place at the door of their classrooms to await the arrival of members from 10 elementary schools around the district. Other staff members and personnel take their places around the building to welcome members as they arrive — We all know the first few minutes of arrival is important to setting the right tone and environment.
From its humble beginnings in 1995 to the remodeled gas station on Elm Street and now to their Railton Center and two additional sites in Jefferson City and Holts Summit, the Boy & Girls Club has come an incredibly long way. For more than 25 years, the club has been offering programming to meet the needs of members and help them overcome any obstacles to achieving their dreams and becoming future leaders in the community. The club is often a second home to many children and a safe place for them to be themselves, have fun, make friends, and experience opportunities that will help them grow and succeed.
It can be hard to believe that just a few short years ago, the club and its membership were quickly outgrowing the deteriorating gas station building. But when the building was scheduled to be demolished as the Lafayette Street exit to Highway 50 was being built, the club called on the community for help through their Light the Way Home campaign. Despite the odds, donors and volunteers rallied together and staff members were able to share their stories and establish trust by exposing their efforts and needs.
Most often, it’s the little things that can change a child’s life. The club has been an invaluable resource for children in need, like one malnourished boy who was finally able to get at least one full meal a day thanks to the Boys & Girls Club. While the boy was in middle school at the time, he was at the same weight as that of an 8 or 9 year old. Many mornings, especially in the summer months, the staff would find him waiting at the club’s front doors before they opened, and he was always the last one wanting to leave. With children like him in mind, the club established a dinner program, giving children the nutrients they need and making sure they will never have to question whether or not they will have a meal to eat each night. Eventually, the boy was sent to live with his biological father, but he had enrolled in a culinary arts program in high school and now holds a career in food service right here in Jefferson City. Growing up, he was not only given a meal, but also an opportunity and a safety net with people he still considers family.
Other times, the club has hosted overnight girls events where they lead exercises in self-awareness. One year, the girls were asked to sit in a circle, look at themselves with a handheld mirror, and see something beautiful within themselves that was not related to physical beauty. But there was one girl who just couldn’t look at herself. She exclaimed that there was nothing beautiful about her — inside or out. She had been told by others in the past that she was ugly and stupid. So when she looked at herself in the mirror, all she could see was ugly and stupid. Staff and fellow members wrapped around her and worked to help her understand that she is a beautiful, powerful, dynamic young woman.
Today, these critical services still carry on inside their 18,000 square foot Railton Center. After school, members like Brody, 10, and others arrive and exit the bus. Laughter and excitement are met with greetings, high fives, and fist bumps. While parents and guardians finish their workday, members need a safe place to be kids. They put their things away and start with a wide range of activities. They can choose games, art, puzzles, and other team-building activities that promote cooperation and collaboration.
Next, a group of members arrive to receive tutoring to help them feel confident and successful at school. During their tutoring sessions, they receive one-on-one and small group instruction from a certified teacher in the areas they are struggling with. They also share stories of their day as they build relationships with their focus group and their tutor.
Once all the buses are unloaded, members are led through the cafeteria to get a hot meal that will serve them well as they go through programming. Korisa, 6, and several of her friends love to eat their dinner and talk excitedly about the fun they have during STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Working together, they cooperatively plan and experiment with various materials and use their problem-solving skills to construct and complete projects.
Carter, 9, and his class enjoy members’ choice time, where they can choose to do whichever activities that interest them most. Carter and his friends work on building a maze. Tomorrow, they may do an interactive activity on a Chromebook.
La’Raya, 13, comes to the club to participate in character-building projects. Members are currently involved in a book study that encourages them to discuss different life issues for teenagers. She and others also participate in a service project to help celebrate community heroes that have protected and provided for them during the ongoing pandemic. They create letters and cards along with snack trays. Giving back to others is instilled in members, as their community has so graciously invested in them. The club is always humbled by the volunteering, donations, and gifts of money to help things run smoothly.
No matter the reason, members attend the Boys & Girls Club with a wide range of needs and interests. Staff and personnel work cooperatively with members, families, community leaders, and other stakeholders to ensure programs are safe, fun, and memorable for all. Not only does the club provide a wide range of opportunities that stir the imagination and build on the talents of members, but it also invites guest speakers from many walks of life, and it offers field trips and unique experiences that members might not ordinarily have access to.
The daily success the club sees in its members is only a snapshot of the overall success. Despite some challenging and uncertain times within the past year, more than 800 children have crossed through the club’s doors. It won’t be until years later that the club will see the fruits of labor in these individuals. The club supports everyday successes, as they are the building blocks to a successful, happy, and healthy life, and the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City looks forward to the next 25 years of building great futures.