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Boys & Girls Club hopes for new home
Looking beyond replacing gym, to $2.5 million building
W 061915 BG CLUB 02
Children play in the main recreation area at the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County. According to Executive Director Mike Jones, a newer facility without such high ceilings would offer savings in the form of energy efficiency. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Club receiving major boosts
Peace gives thousands; NFL's Houston here this weekend

To continue supplying a budget for year-round activities while also mounting a multiyear capital campaign, adult leaders of the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County hope to call on established supporters and new funding sources.

One supporter they won't have to win over is Karl Peace, Ph.D., the medical research biostatistician and professor who endowed the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University in honor of his late wife.

Over the last seven years, Peace and various donors who have met his matching-gift challenges have supplied about $250,000 to the Boys & Girls Club.

"No one that I have known or met came up in a more poverty stricken, underserved or abusive environment than I," Peace said in an email. "A few adults expressed belief in me and my ability - essentially extending an emotional and confidence-forming hand-up. This helped me to rise above the conditions of my environment."

He sees the Boys & Girls Club providing the same kind of hand-up, he said in response to a question about why he gives. Often providing talks on the "fun, magic and importance of mathematics," Peace also volunteers time with the boys and girls.

"Many of the kids ... benefit from knowing that others believe in them and from knowing the importance of education," Peace wrote.

In 2009, he offered to match contributions in the club's annual campaign and wound up giving $74,000 to equal the total from other donors. In recognition of this and his several in-kind gifts, the club named its classrooms and computer lab the Karl E. Peace Center for Academic Achievement.

This year, when the club sent out requests for support for scholarships to its summer program, Peace responded with an offer to match what board members gave personally, reported Mike Jones, Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County executive director. The board members gave about $21,000, so Peace gave about $21,000 more.


Justin Houston helping

With sponsorship from Wild Wing Café, Justin Houston, Statesboro-born outside linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs, is hosting two Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County benefit events this weekend. A number of professional and university football players are scheduled to attend.

The Celebrity Basketball Game will be held Friday at Statesboro High School. Doors open at 6:45 p.m., with tipoff at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free for children and $5 for adults. Attendees also may buy raffle tickets for a 50-50 Half Court Shot and autographed memorabilia.

The Free Football Camp is expected to host about 300 Bulloch County youth, ages 8-18, Saturday at Statesboro High School from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. The registration address is justinhoustonevents.com.

The Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County has an $850,000 current-year operating budget, Jones said. A little more than half of that comes from government and agency grants, and three major federal grants secured last year enabled the club to increase its funding to that level after a previous reduction to about $500,000.

The nonprofit organization employs about 35 paid staff during the year, including a number of teachers and teaching aides, as well as using volunteers.

 

Shoe squeaks and shouts of boys and girls playing on a basketball court below could be heard from Mike Jones' loft office. Jones works inside the former clothing factory warehouse that is the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County's remaining usable building, a building it doesn't own.

More representative of what the club does were the girls and boys using computers in a lab with two instructors, the field trips to places such as Georgia Southern University's Raptor Center and the planning underway for a handbell choir, said Jones, the club's executive director.

"There's hardly a time that goes by where a visitor walks into our club and their first words aren't, 'Wow, I didn't know y'all did all this!' " Jones said. "Most people think the kids just come and play in the gym all day. Our services are focused on everything but that."

Although the gym, the game room and social interaction draw the children in, he said, the staff is focused on offering academic enrichment and art opportunities.

"Our target population, having limited financial resources, can't afford to put their children in multiple programs," Jones said. "So the Boys & Girls Club tries to offer as many activities as we can to those children without the additional cost."

Right now, the Boys & Girls Club has about 350 youth, ages 5-18, in its summer program. The center is open to members, 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. When parents can afford to pay, a membership for an elementary school child costs $125. For middle and high school students, the charge is $75, because the club competes against the idea that teens could simply stay home.

For these one-time prices, the program continues through Bulloch County Schools' summer break.

Then, the after-school program begins. Last year, it involved about 400 youth in the same age range. The cost for the entire school year, for those families who do pay, is $200 per elementary school student or $100 for middle and high school students.

"The majority of our membership, though, don't pay anything," Jones said. "They are scholarshipped in."


Always a waiting list

Since the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County opened in August 2001, it has had to turn children away, maintaining waiting lists. The active membership peaked several years ago, when about 750 boys and girls were enrolled.

At one point, in addition to facilities on either side of the Outreach Center of Bulloch County on Denmark Street, the club had a location in Portal. The club's Denmark Street, Statesboro, buildings included a 9,000-square-foot gym that had been purpose-built by the club at its founding, another 9,000 square feet of adjoining space leased from the Outreach Center Inc., and the warehouse.

Then the 2008 recession and its aftermath brought a decline in grants.

After cutbacks, the club was down to the gym - the only real estate it owns - on Denmark Street and the leased warehouse, now the club headquarters. Measuring about 20,000 square feet, the warehouse space facing Lee Hill Drive is leased from a private owner.


The fire

A fire Feb. 15 destroyed a large portion of the gym. Fire investigators determined that the cause was an electrical short in a ventilation fan.

Although the building is still standing, the insurance company judged about one-third of it to be a total loss, Jones said. The estimated cost to rebuild was about $475,000, but the limit on the policy was $325,000, so Jones and the club's board settled with the insurer for that amount.

The club first occupied the gym and insured it before it was fully finished, Jones said. The composite rubber flooring and basketball backboards with their support structures were installed later. Jones thought they would be covered as contents, he said, but they were not.


For a larger building

Boys & Girls Club board members now hope to use the $325,000 as a nest egg for a fundraising campaign toward a larger building at a different location.

The thinking turned in that direction when the fire resulted in offers of help, said Alison Rich. After two years as president, or "chief volunteer officer," she passed the gavel to Jeremy Ragan in January but remains on the board, now in her fifth year.

"We had a lot of community people coming forward and asking to help us, and we thought, let's keep that momentum going, let's get the dialogue going with our county commissioners, our mayor, our superintendent of schools, everybody and see what we can do to better serve the youth of Bulloch County," Rich said.

She would like to see the club move to a building it would own rather than lease in a more central area of town, she said.

The Denmark Street center is a on the western edge of Statesboro. Rich said she thinks a more central site would help the club serve a wider socioeconomic range of children.

Using a leased building also raises the possibility that the club could be forced out if the property were sold, she said. Rich said this is probably a slight possibility but something board members are concerned about.

Jones raised two other reasons for wanting a different building. With a ceiling about 28 feet high and the building not insulated for its current purpose, it is not energy efficient, he said. Also, it has no greenspace outside, so all the club's onsite activities are held indoors.


Coming up with a plan

Over the past month, Jones has met with city, county and school system officials. He is not seeking cash from the city and county budgets, he said, but is asking the local governments' help to get a Community Development Block Grant for the Boys & Girls Club project.

A CDBG is a federal grant, usually channeled through a state agency to a local government, for a project to serve needs of low- and moderate-income people. In the past, $500,000 was a common grant size.

Through its service to children, the Boys & Girls club also serves their parents' needs and helps the local economy, Jones said.

"For single-parent families, having a safe, structured place for their children to be every day allows them to obtain gainful employment," he said.

Boys & Girls Club adult leaders will meet Thursday to start a strategic planning process.

"Hopefully, the outcome ... is going to be our approach to acquiring a new facility, one that of course would be designed specifically for Boys & Girls Club programming," Jones said.

A more than 40,000-square-foot building would fill the bill, and it could cost $2.5 million or more, he said.


YMCA coming?

Recently, some Bulloch County residents have brought in the YMCA of Coastal Georgia to conduct a survey on starting a YMCA branch. Acknowledging that the Boys & Girls Club and other local organizations are not meeting the full demand for after-school care, Jones said he welcomes the interest in providing more.

However, he acknowledged that the club's leadership is concerned about further demands on local donors willing to support charitable nonprofits. He noted that Ogeechee Area Hospice, the Averitt Center for the Arts and several local churches have held capital campaigns in recent years.

"Our biggest concern is the community being tired of contributing to capital campaigns," Jones said.

So, one issue he and the club's board will be dealing with is the timing of their campaign. Raising the money will probably take three to five years, he said. If $2.5 million is the chosen goal, Jones hopes that sources such as a CDBG and national foundations, as well as private donors, will help to meet it.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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