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Posted: August 27, 2011 7:29 p.m.

Burgess: Boys and Girls Club is special

Last Friday evening, my husband, Jim, and I attended the annual "Evening with the Stars" dinner, which is a major fund raising event sponsored by the Walton County Boys & Girls Clubs of North Central Georgia. The City of Social Circle and The Home Depot were both honored as this year's "shining stars."

The city has contributed support to the Club through an annual contract and scholarships, and The Home Depot in Conyers gave a generous $10,000 grant for many interior and exterior improvements at the Social Circle Club. Site Director Darrell Corder calls this effort the "Extreme Club Makeover, Social Circle Edition."

The shining stars for Monroe were Comcast, which contributed financial support and volunteer efforts to improve the Monroe (Stevens) Club, and Longhorn Steaks which contributed donates weekly food for families. The "super star" for both clubs was the Walton County Sheriff's Office because of the time officers spend at the clubs in mentoring, teaching and working with club youth.

One of my table mates was a sweet 13-year- old girl named Irma Soriano, who along with her older sister, Carla, and younger sister, Xocilt, had been members of the Social Circle Club until recently when their mother moved them to Covington to be closer to her job. Irma said a great benefit of the club was providing quiet time for her to complete her homework. She said that there was always so much going on at home that it was hard to focus on homework. She said she would miss being a member of the Boys and Girls Club since there was no club for her to join in Covington. Her statement started me thinking about why this opportunity had sort of "leap- frogged" over Newton in favor of Walton County.

After consulting with Social Circle attorney Becky Dally, a member of the Walton County Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors, I learned that John and Joyce Stevens, legislative representatives for the Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta, and Mickey and Nina Kay Lankford (all residents of Monroe) were the four individuals instrumental in initially raising the funds and furthering the goal of establishing a club in Walton County.

Becky and Hal Dally joined the Board in 2003 with the understanding that a club would be established in Social Circle. Initially, the Social Circle Club was considered a "pilot" program, and after three self-supporting years it attained the status of a full fledged club within Walton County. The success in acquiring this status has resulted in large measure from the dedication of the Dallys, supported by other members of the fund raising committee in raising money needed to sustain the club. Every year those of us on the committee expect Becky to set up a meeting where we pour over listings of past supporters, potential supporters and anyone else we can think of for contributions to the program. We then divide up the list and do our best to raise the necessary revenue.

One day I visited our club in Social Circle to get a feel for what it's like to be a member. It was a heart-warming experience. There is a daily attendance of 55 children. The elementary schoolers arrive first. They line up at the door to enter, and, after being checked in one by one, they line up at the Cubby Corner where they leave their backpacks. After check-in, the children head for the various study rooms to complete their homework. That period, which runs from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., is known as the "Power Hour." Academics are strongly emphasized at the club, and although kids don't like the idea of homework, the term "Power Hour" seems to take the sting out of this chore. The children are so quiet and focused during "Power Hour," it's hard to believe they are even in the building. A healthy snack comes somewhere in the middle of this study period which is a welcome distraction. Middle and high school students arrive usually around 3:30 p.m., and observe the same basic homework schedule.

After "Power Hour," the members head for their favorite activities. There's the game room, multi-purpose room, computer room and learning center where they can pursue interests such as arts and crafts, games and planned projects. Teens have their own exclusive space - a Teen Center, complete with computers, TV, and game equipment. Jordan Flores, youth pastor of the Avenue Church, has contributed sound recording equipment and is constructing and outfitting a padded recording studio. The kids have formed their own production company (BGC Productions) and Jordan will teach them to use the equipment. Members Jamal Evans, Jalisha Evans and Joy Hunter demonstrated their considerable vocal talent at the "Evening with the Stars" dinner. Members may also elect to join the photography class, the Boom Boom cheering squad or sports activities such as flag football.

A Keystone Club for high schoolers was formed this year to pursue a number of goals including fund raising for needed projects. Keystone is a club systemwide ultimate teen leadership development program focusing on academic success, career preparation and community service. Keystone Club members in Social Circle are currently visiting other clubs in the area to learn about the art of fund raising and other types of activities.

In addition to Jordan Flores, the Social Circle Club is blessed with many local volunteers to assist with the program. Some of the regulars include Master Gardeners Rosemarie Sells and Elaine Burress; Greg Morgan of the city's Public Safety Department; Social Circle resident Mary Cross; Dr. Juanasha Watkins, Social Circle Middle School; Melissa Smith, Social Circle High School; and Scottie Benford, Assistant High School Principal. Many other volunteers have contributed on a project- by- project basis.

The club is especially fortunate to have as a strong supporter and mentor our Better Hometown Manager Mike Miller, who retired from the Metro Atlanta club after 35 years of service.

I met a number of dedicated staff members, many of whom are former member of Boys & Girls Clubs throughout the area. The current club staff are: Jermon Hawk, Teen Coordinator; Juanita Hawkins, Learning Center Coordinator; Jahret Rainey, Computer Lab Instructor; Sonya Turner, Membership Clerk; and Demarcus Robertson, Social Circle Recreation Instructor. Their love and enjoyment of working with kids is such an inspiration to me.

In expressing his feelings about the Club, Mr. Darrel (as the kids call him) stated that despite its industrial location, "169 Thurman Baccus Rd. is a very special place for many children and teens in Social Circle; it is their home away from home; it is their Boys and Girls Club."

As an enthusiastic supporter, I can't imagine not having such a place in our city.

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