The Boys and Girls Club of Columbus is down but it”s not out.
Dr. Melvin Ray, board president and chief volunteer officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Golden Triangle, says the Columbus branch is so short on funds that directors are being forced to “make choices between paying staff or paying the mortgage.”
The economic downturn has significantly decreased private donations to the Boys and Girls Club, a United Way supported agency, and closure has become an ominous responsibility.
But Ray isn”t ready to throw in the towel just yet.
“I have no doubt we will the overcome the obstacles before us with the support of the community,” said Ray.
That support is coming in the form of a faith-based initiative among local churches to save the Boys and Girls Club.
Steven James, pastor of United Christian Baptist Church, is leading a movement aimed at recruiting 20 local churches to pay the remaining $200,000 on the Boys and Girls Club”s mortgage.
“They are and have been for years, struggling to keep the doors open,” James said of the Columbus Boys and Girls Club. “They”re about eight or nine months operating in the red. Starkville has been pitching in, but they no longer can afford it.”
James” campaign to rally 20 churches is still in the works. Dorian Johnson, pastor at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church, is one of several pastors already on board.
“We”re still trying to gather those churches willing to make a formal commitment,” said Johnson. “Then we”re going to get together and discuss how we can help.”
Mary Moore, president of the Columbus Boys and Girls Club board, says the community can”t afford to lose the services offered by the Boys and Girls Club.
“(Closing) would have a big impact. Especially with parents who depend on us to keep their kids five days a week and also for summer,” said Moore. “This is a resource where kids can go and feel the environment is safe for them.”
The mission of the Boys and Girls Club is broad. Some describe it as keeping kids out of trouble by keeping them occupied. Others see it as developing the youth of today to function in the world of tomorrow.
More than 100 members of the Columbus Boys and Girls Club attend the club to work on their homework and receive one-on-one tutoring from six part-time employees.
Beyond academic achievement, the club also promotes character through community service and healthy lifestyles by avoiding drugs and making wise decisions.
“Columbus has a jewel in that facility,” said Ray. “People don”t realize what other communities would do to have such a facility. But it”s not just the facility. It”s the programming which occurs within the walls of that facility.”
Ray says the Boys and Girls Club has several grant requests pending, but they likely won”t come in until November. The city and county also make contributions, but those will come early in the new year.
In August, Starkville native and Portland Trailblazers forward Travis Outlaw made a $20,000 contribution to the Boys and Girls Club of Starkville, but Moore says that money was designated for the Starkville branch.
“We struggle between July and October to the point that we may have to skip paying a bill or two, and it piles up on us. I don”t know if we”re going to make it from month to month,” said Ray.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.