NON PROFIT: Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence
Serving Lawrence Youth for Generations.
| 2017 Q1 | story by Colby Wilson, Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence
The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence has been serving youth in Lawrence, Kansas, since the first Boys Club opened in 1974. The need for the Club was spotlighted by the civil rights unrest that reached Lawrence in 1970. Incidents involving racial tension included riots at Lawrence High School, the Kansas University Union being set on fire and shootings involving police that resulted in the death of two teenagers, one black and one white.
The violence of this time inspired a young University of Kansas plumber, Bobby Lee, to establish a local Boys Club chapter aimed at providing a safe, positive place for teenagers after school. After several years of recruiting board members and raising funds, the first Boys Club opened at 10th and Massachusetts streets on the third floor of the building that is now Ingredient Restaurant on the bottom floor.
Since that day, the Club has continued to grow and meet the needs of more and more young people in Lawrence. In 1988, the Club changed its name to Boys and Girls Club to officially include girls in membership. In 1999, the Club opened its first on-site elementary program at Cordley Elementary School. In 2012, Trei Dudley won the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year Award, which recognizes high school members for overcoming adversity, being successful academically, giving back to Club and community, and demonstrating character and leadership. In 2014, the Club opened a site at Sunset Hill Elementary, accomplishing a goal of operating a Club in all 14 elementary schools in the Lawrence school district. In 2015, the Club launched the Great Futures campaign to build a new teen center that will serve five times as many middle- and high-school members.
During the years, the Club has impacted several generations of youth and families. One of those families is the mother/daughter team of Taryn Steward and Amiyah Sanders. Amiyah is currently a sixth-grader at South Middle School who attends the Teen Center, at 1520 Haskell Ave., everyday after school. Amiyah also attended the Club at Schwegler Elementary School daily from kindergarten through fifth grade. Amiyah enjoys coming to the Club for the mentorship she receives from staff members such as Ms. Ruthie and the cooking programs and art activities provided. She also understands the importance of succeeding in school, and she participates in the homework help and tutoring program “Power Hour” everyday. When she doesn’t have homework, Amiyah uses Power Hour to practice her clarinet. When asked why she likes the Club so much, she says, “Because I get hang out with my friends Jada, Kishi and Kira. Mr. Ben helps me with my homework that sometimes my Mom can’t help with. Ms. Ruthie is smart and funny.” Ms. Ruthie says, “Amiyah is a ray of sunshine wherever she goes. Her smile makes others happy, and she is always kind to the other members and the staff.”
Amiyah’s mother, Taryn, a certified medication aid in Eudora, who works until 5:30 p.m. everyday, appreciates the Club for two reasons: the impact the Club had on her when she was young and what the Club does for Amiyah. Taryn is an alumni of the Club. She attended the Club in the mid-1990s during her elementary- and middle-school years. In 1997, Taryn received the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence Junior Youth of the Year award. She was the president of the Torch Club, a program focused on community service and developing leadership skills. She has fond memories of attending the Club, spending time with her friends, jumping rope and playing pool. Looking back, Taryn understands how important the Club was in helping her stay away from negative influences. “At the time, we didn’t realize how important it was. For us, it was a place where we could hang out and have fun. Now, I realize how the Club kept us safe. If I hadn’t gone to the Club, I don’t know where I would be today”.
Taryn is also grateful for the impact the Club in having on Amiyah. As a working single mother, Taryn knows that if weren’t for the Club, Amiyah would be on her own until 6 p.m. everyday after school. Knowing Amiyah is in a safe, positive environment makes it possible for Taryn to work full-time and earn the money needed to make ends meet. She also appreciates the focus Club staff have on academics. This is a positive change that Taryn sees from the time she attended the Club. “The focus on school was something that wasn’t pushed as much when I went to the Club. If I could go back, I would work harder in school. This is what I tell Amiyah, and I like to see the Club helping her with school.”
Taryn and Amiyah’s story highlights the impact the Club has had on the Lawrence community for more than 40 years. The data also demonstrates the impact the Club is having:
- ● 64% of elementary students (approximately 3,000 kids) in Lawrence are members of the Boys and Girls Club.
- ● 56% of Club members achieved more than the expected gain on standardized reading and math tests.
- ● 25% of Club members improved behavior in the classroom according to teacher surveys.
- ● Based on test data collected, The Club’s six-week summer academic enrichment program eliminates the learning loss that occurs during summer.
- ● 83% of Club members are active at least five days per week.
- ● A University of Michigan study found that for every dollar invested in the Boys and Girls Club, $8 is returned to the local economy in Kansas.
Still, there are thousands of middle- and high-school students such as Amiyah that the Club cannot reach. The current Teen Center is too small and outdated to meet the needs of these teens. The Club has a plan to expand on the partnership with the local school district, building a new facility next to the College and Career Center, which will reach five times as many teens as the Club currently serves. On this site, Boys and Girls Club mentors will provide academic support, career exploration, college preparation and healthy-lifestyle programs. The facility will include a gymnasium, a performing arts space, video and sound production rooms, a culinary and commercial kitchen, design/build workspaces, a computer lab, a games room and lots of multipurpose classrooms and gathering spaces. For the past two years, Club leaders have been working hard to secure the $4,000,000 needed to build the new Teen Center. Lawrence businessman Harry Herington, CEO of NIC Inc., kicked off the campaign with a leadership of $250,000, honoring Don and Beverly Gardner. With just $750,000 left to raise, the campaign is on track to meet the goal and break ground on the new facility this summer.
The mission of the Boys and Girls Club is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. The new Teen Center is the next step in a 45-year history of moving closer to achieving this mission, each success building on the previous one. This next step would not be possible without the unwavering support the Lawrence community has given to the Club since it’s doors opened in 1974. During the years, board members, staff members, individual donors and local businesses have all contributed so much to the ongoing growth and success of the Club and its members. On behalf of Taryn, Amiyah and the thousands of members who have been impacted by these contributions, the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence says thank you!