Dec. 8, 2005 – A little after noon youngsters started to leave the bright sunshine of the street to enter the cool, half darkness of the Boys and Girls Club building, opposite the old Avis building on the hill in Christiansted. Some youngsters gravitated to the basketball court in back, others set down their backpacks and pulled out books. Most were joking around, exchanging small talk and smiles. An adult could remember the feeling, it was like coming home after a day at school.
Eshko Skepple said she has been coming to the Club since September. "I come everyday if I can." She does her homework at the club, but she especially likes the art instruction she gets there. Her mother works most days and does not get home until 5 p.m. which is when Eshko, whose initial shyness quickly gave way to youthful confidence, goes home
The petite Elena Christian Junior High student and the other young people are evidence the local Boys and Girls Club is accomplishing the goals of the national organization.
However, the V.I. clubs are in trouble.
James Hill, assistant city manager of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, said Tuesday morning the three V.I. clubs are going through a transition period. He said the local branch recently lost its executive director, some board members and key staff, but after four weeks in the territory he is impressed with the present staff's dedication in keeping the programs going.
He was speaking at "Vision 2006," a workshop at the Caravelle Hotel that included 13 staff members from the two clubs on St. Croix and the club on St. Thomas. Staff members began the brainstorming session by mentioning over 21 strengths of the local clubs.
Strengths given the most emphasis were program structure, dedicated workers, community support and plenty of good role models. Other strengths mentioned were the club's reputation, its facilities, its positive activities and its strong tradition.
The national organization was started over 100 years ago, with the V.I. branch active now for 30 years.
Delbert Hewitt, the V.I. clubs' vice president, said the meeting's purpose was to help the public better understand the clubs' operations. The clubs have after-school programs where youngsters are helped with homework. The clubs' computer rooms, averaging about six computers each, are used mostly for word processing school reports and the like but students can access the Internet under the supervision of a staff member.
Another component of the clubs is to provide a place where young people can have fun. The clubs include basketball courts, ping-pong tables and pool tables. Hill said the clubs are always looking for donations of items for the game rooms.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards gave opening remarks and welcomed the three representatives from Regional headquarter in Atlanta. Joining Hill was Lorraine Orr, regional director, and Lucky Harris, assistant director. Richards said the clubs had a dramatic effect on the lives of youngsters in the Virgin Islands, adding that the clubs' staff understand the value of making sacrifices and helping others.
In outlining the national organization's goals Orr said "50 percent of the club alumni say involvement in the clubs saved their lives." She said the core beliefs behind the clubs are:
1) The clubs should be a safe place for youngsters to learn.
2) The clubs should be a place where youngsters can establish ongoing relationships with caring adults.
3) The clubs should offer life-enhancing programs that help the youngsters build character and integrity.
4) The clubs should be a place where youngsters learn about hope and opportunity.
The clubs service 350 to 500 boys and girls in the Virgin Islands annually, according to Hill.
After discussion of strengths of the clubs, talk focused on weaknesses, with everyone agreeing that lack of funding was the primary problem in the clubs. Lack of funds was said to make it impossible to plan further than two or three months in advance.
Hill said in an interview earlier this week that the most urgent need of the club is to identify methods of increasing cash flow.(See "Boys and Girls Clubs Look to Strengthen Programs in V.I.").
Specifics of fundraising were not addressed at the workshop, however Hill said he would meet with people later on Tuesday who had more information about the clubs' financial situation.
Hill said a national search for a local executive director had been narrowed to five candidates and some of those candidates were expected to interview in January. Nicole Trawick, the former V.I. executive director, resigned last month.
Participants also discussed the potential for growth. They mentioned a second club on St. Thomas, and possibly one on St. John.
Hill said that by late next week a report would be generated, detailing what was learned at the brainstorming session and at other meetings in the territory. The regional representatives have been on island for a month and expect to leave Saturday.
Hill said he might return for a few days when the new executive director is hired. For more information about the clubs call 778-8990.
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