One by one, the children stepped up to the podium, the heads of some of the smaller children barely visible to the audience of 75 people who gathered Tuesday evening at the Columbus Boys and Girls Club for the club’s annual Black History Month program.
Some of the children clutched the microphone tightly, delivering their lines tentatively, nervously swaying at the podium. Others almost seemed to leap to the podium, speaking in a strong, confident voice as they delivered their lines on this year’s theme, “Rise Up.”
The program focused on several components: self-confidence, education, character and pride in themselves and their community. More than 20 children, mostly elementary school age, participated in the 30-minute program.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Brittany Turner, who runs the Columbus branch of the Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle. “Some of them were a little nervous, but I thought they did a great job.”
Turner said the children have been working on Tuesday’s program since the beginning of the semester.
“They were really excited,” she said. “A lot of them even stayed late to work on it every day.”
Earlier in the day, Turner was the guest speaker at the Columbus Rotary Club, where she outlined the work of the club.
“Last year, in the three sessions (spring and fall after-school programs and the all-day summer program) we served more than 350 children,” she said. “In this session, we currently have 142 children from ages 6 to 16.”
As she watched the children perform Tuesday, Turner reflected on her own experience with the club. She started working with the club as a volunteer when she was still in high school and became part of the staff after graduation. After finishing her master’s at Mississippi University for Women in 2006, she steadily moved up the ranks in the club.
Speaking from her experience, both as a volunteer and administrator, Turner said the role volunteers play is critical to the club’s success.
“The work we do is critical, but we can’t do it alone,” Turner said. “We still need more help. We need volunteers, mentors. We open our doors to anyone who wants to lend a helping hand.”
Be warned, though, she said. Volunteering can become addictive.
“Those relationships you build with kids as a volunteer are very powerful,” she said. “You realize pretty quick how important you are as a volunteer. I remember when I was volunteering, if a kid didn’t see me one day, the next day she would say, ‘Where were you?’ You realize you’re connected. They want to go home with you. It’s just a special relationship.”
Derk Fulton, in his first year as the club’s board president, watched with pride as the children delivered their lines during Tuesday’s program.
“I thought they were wonderful,” he said. “You can tell they put a lot of work into this.”
Foster said he is proud of the club’s success, but still sees a need.
“We have a lot of boys in the club and we desperately need more men to come in and volunteer, teach them what it means to be a man,” he said. “I think that’s one area where we can really grow, getting more men to come in a help as a volunteer or mentor.”