By Michael Jacobs
The Brookhaven Boys & Girls Club works hard every day to build the self-esteem of children ages 6 to 18, but the leadership of the club on North Druid Hills Road and of its parent, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, took time June 24 to build the esteem of the club itself.
William Lampley, who became the president of the metro Atlanta organization Feb. 3, joined local business leaders that day for “A Walk Down Promise Street,” a tour of the Brookhaven facility with its executive director, Bobby Dunn. The goal was to show that the Boys & Girls Club is not a day care facility, but an educational organization that Lampley said is changing the trajectory of lives to produce leaders and productive members of society.
“We provide some consistency for these families,” Dunn said. “If you look at the scope of what we do, and I’ve even explained this to the kids sometimes, they spend more time here than they do at home actually awake.”
The Brookhaven club has 725 members and serves 200 to 210 kids a day during the school year, when it’s open after school until 7 p.m., and 190 to 200 a day during the summer, when it’s open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The club picks up kids after school at Ashford Park, Dresden and Woodward elementary schools, Sequoyah Middle School, and Cross Keys High School.
Membership during the school year is $35, although Dunn said the cost of the services provided to each child is about $1,000. The club gives full or partial scholarships to 150 to 175 members.
For the all-day summer program, which includes lunch and free field trips to places such as the Dunwoody Nature Center and the High Museum, the cost is $150, and Dunn said 60 to 70 of the 225 or so kids in the program are getting scholarships.
“In this economic environment, there are more and more kids who need our assistance, who need our programs,” Lampley said.
Dunn, himself the product of a Boys & Girls Club in Long Island, N.Y., showed how the club provides a continuum of services to develop children into confident, successful students and teen leaders who graduate from high school more than 70 percent of the time, compared with about 50 percent for Georgians overall.
“We’re working with their self-esteem. A lot of these kids lack that, no matter how cocky,” Dunn said. From membership cards to the photos of the Youths of the Month on the wall at the entrance to the club, kids get the message that they belong. The older kids take on more responsibility in the club, eventually earning summer jobs as junior staff while also getting more autonomy to run their teen center.
The club members get a mix of sports, arts and crafts, computer training, homework help and tutoring, and supervised recreational time.
The computer center features 12 computers, and the learning center has an additional six workstations exclusively for homework. Dunn is proud of how the club got the six homework computers: The mother of former club members volunteered at the club for two years through her work, then wanted to do something more. Her boss agreed to pay for the six computers she knew the club needed.
The demographics of the Brookhaven club set it apart from most of the Atlanta-area clubs, which together have 17,000 members. Dunn said a recent survey found that his club serves about 30 nationalities, thanks to its proximity to the Buford Highway corridor. “I didn’t realize the scope of what we’re reaching out to.”
While single-parent families are common at most clubs, that’s not the case in Brookhaven. Dunn said the many Hispanic members tend to come from homes with at least two parents at home — more are common because many homes have two or more families — but those families have many of the same problems as single-parent homes.
Nationally, the club confronts those problems so well that 57 percent of surveyed alumni said the club actually saved their lives. That’s a message the club wants to spread beyond its membership.
Lampley said the club staff has to be more active in telling the community about the club so more people will want to volunteer and donate.
“We talk to our kids about being great,” he said, “and as a staff and an organization, we need to be great.”