This kicks-off a regular feature to spotlight local non-profits, civic and charitable groups in the area. The piece is also a part of a separate ongoing effort with the United Way to highlight their work throughout the year
Erly Saldano had been in his new position as executive director at the A. R. "Gus" Barksdale Boys and Girls Club only a few days last year, when he noticed students were having a hard time settling down for afternoon study time.
"It was very difficult to get the students to focus," Saldano said of the more than 200 members who attend the after-school program daily.
He later connected their inability to concentrate with what he considers unhealthy snacks purchased from the center’s vending machines.
So, he requested vendors stock the machines with healthier options. The vending company began offering baked chips, but Saldano said this didn’t go far enough.
"Eventually, we asked the vendor to come and pick up the machines, but they said they didn’t have anywhere to store them," Saldano said. "So we just unplugged them and turned them around to face the walls."
Today, the club partners with the Georgia Nutritional Food Program which helps provide healthy snacks for the students. "They didn’t like it at first, but now they look forward to their applesauce, granola bars and fruit cups," Saldano said with a chuckle.
"Promoting healthy lifestyles actually is a focus area for Boys and Girls Clubs," Saldano said.
So is academic enrichment, which is why Saldano is equally excited about the Barksdale Club’s selection as one of three pilot sites for an educational program called Center for a New Generation. About 50 third and fourth grade students will participate in the intense tutorial program designed to identify math and reading comprehension deficiencies, and then determine any needed remediation through a partnership with parents and Rockdale County Public Schools.
Programs like these make Barksdale Club Board Member Chad Shultz a proud supporter.
"Boys and Girls provides a safe place for these kids and gives them opportunities they couldn’t get if this club didn’t exist," Shultz said. "It is so much more than a place to play basketball and pool. The club provides the gentle nudge needed help direct these kids be successful and happy adults."
The club, which was established in 1977 with about 200 members and was named after community leader Gus Barksdale, now serves about 1,000 members year round.
Even with solid programs and outcome measurements to determine effectiveness and community impact, Barksdale Board Chair Pat Sims admits it’s tough for even the best non-profits these days.
"Raising the dollars to keep our programs up and running, staff paid and facilities maintained is critical to our mission as a board," Sims said.
"Our opportunity is to work closely with funders, supporters and others to show our value to the community and continue to be accountable for every dollar we receive."
United Way has maintained a long-standing partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs throughout metro Atlanta, including in Rockdale County. The Barksdale club is one of eight local grantee partners.
"Without United Way, none of it would be possible," Saldano said.
"We are very grateful for all those people in our community that give to the United Way, so those funds can be directed to this club that means so much to so many.
"The United Way funds allow us to have annual dues for the kids at only $30. It costs almost $900 per child to provide the services they get at the Barksdale Club. Our community should be very proud of what they do for the kids in our community that need it the most."
To find out how to support the Barksdale Boys and Girls Club through your gift to United Way in Rockdale County with an individual contribution or company campaign, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 678-623-2857.