Originally Published: December 6, 2015 6 a.m.
Last year, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona's clubhouses in Prescott and Prescott Valley served 635 youngsters, 48 percent of whom are from single-parent homes and 60 percent of whom receive free and reduced lunches.
That was the word from Executive Director Gerald Szostak at the organization's second annual Inspiring Young Minds breakfast Thursday, Dec. 3.
City and town leaders such as Prescott and Prescott Valley police chiefs Jerald Monahan and Bryan Jarrell, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce President Marnie Uhl and Yavapai College President Penny Wills were in attendance at the event celebrating the impact of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Arizona.
The hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are when children are most likely to get in trouble or become victims of crime. Boys and Girls Clubs provide safe, enriching after-school programs that keep kids busy during those hours, Chris Hussey, host of "The Wild Hussey Show" on Magic 99.1, said in the kickoff message.
The audience was treated to a beautiful acapella rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by 13-year-old Sierra King, a member of the PV Boys & Girls Club, and then a parent of a club member and a former club member shared stories of how the organization helped them.
Single mom Rita Egan's 13-year-old son is a current member of the Prescott club. They moved to Chino Valley from Arkansas in July 2014 to be closer to her older son. But when he moved on, they found themselves homeless. They took temporary shelter with the Prescott Area Women's Shelter and then Egan, a licensed LPN in Arkansas, found a job as a medical assistant at Yavapai Regional Medical Center's Internal Medicine Clinic. In April 2015, they were able to move out of the shelter into an apartment.
With Egan working, she needed a place for her son - and she turned to the Boys & Girls Club.
"He loves going there," she said, adding she loves he can go there and learn from strong, male role models. "I can't provide that for my son, so it's great to know they're there."
Jared Byrd, a former member of the Prescott Valley club, now works for Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix. Of his involvement with the organization, he said, "It began with a lip curl and an eye roll."
He'd just finished his sophomore year of high school, and found himself stuck with his mother at the clubhouse. He approached the doors of the teen room with trepidation: "That step changed everything."
He said one day convinced him he wanted to be involved with the organization. It taught him leadership skills and the importance of giving back and allowed him to develop lifelong relationships: Two friends from the club were groomsmen at his wedding - and he met his wife there, too.
The experience with Boys & Girls Clubs ignited his passion for youth development.
"I want to see kids succeed," Byrd said.
A video filmed by club members was also screened. Among the benefits the kids highlighted were, "We get to do homework" and "We get to have fun." When asked why she liked the clubhouse, one member answered that she felt safe.
"It's really reassuring to hear from parents the impact we do have," Szostak said.
He explained the organization focuses on three key impact areas: academic success, good character and citizenship and healthy lifestyles.
To address academic success, club members must spend an hour a day on homework or other academic-oriented activities. Last year, they completed 16,000 hours. As good citizens, they also put in 325 volunteer hours, Szostak said.
One new initiative in 2016: The Boys & Girls Club will work with the juvenile detention center, "expanding our reach to those who need us most," he said.
They've also received word that a Prescott Valley Community Development Block Grant will help them expand the clubhouse and reduce the wait list, and they have a chance to expand the play space in the Prescott clubhouse.
But to do that, they need financial support. Consider making a tax credit donation to Boys & Girls Club - individuals can give up to $200 and joint filers up to $400.
The organization also accepts monetary donations - and donations of time. Volunteers are needed to work with young people on life-skills and school studies, as well as work in the administrative office and at events.
For more info, visit bgcaz.org or call 928-776-8686
Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2036, or 928-830-2928.