Where else would these children go?
Twice during Wednesday’s Boys & Girls Club luncheon the speaker’s voice began to break, caught up in the emotion of the moment.
The first came while Cathy Blankenship was describing what the club can do for a child. The second when Josh Minter described what the club did for him.
Both got the audience of 100 or so people at the Pinon Plaza a little teary-eyed, but for me the real sorrow came when board President Lori Haney talked about the club’s finances. More about that a little later.
Blankenship, the executive director, talked about the sheer numbers of kids the Boys & Girls Club of Western Nevada serves. It’s pretty amazing that average attendance this summer will be 450 kids a day — as many as some elementary schools — in that small building.
But it was when Blankenship talked about just one of those kids, a 12-year-old girl she called Crystal, that she had to pause and collect herself. This is the story she told:
Last winter on a snowy day, Crystal showed up at the club with no coat and wearing canvas tennis shoes with no socks, her legs soaked past her knees. The staff went to work to help and find out what had happened.
It turns out, Blankenship said, “Her mother had dropped her off for a one-night sleepover at a friend’s house — three days earlier. She had gotten into an argument with her friend and she was asked to leave after the family could not contact Crystal’s mother.
“Not sure what to do, Crystal walked five miles to the club.”
Boys & Girls Club staff went to her apartment and found the mother had been evicted. They grabbed some dry clothes and shoes from the items that had been left behind, then went searching for the mother at a nearby motel.
When the mother turned up, she was drunk and started yelling at her daughter. She was reported to Child Protective Services, and Crystal was placed in a group home.
Today, Crystal is still coming to the club and is thriving in a foster home. Her mother is getting counseling and hopes to get her daughter back.
“Our club staff will step in,” Blankenship said, “and do whatever it takes to help a child succeed. It’s not just their job, it’s their passion.”
Josh Minter, 18 years old, the club’s 2002 Youth of the Year, also broke up when he talked about being on the receiving end of the staff’s attention.
Coming from a tough family life, he found what he was looking for at the Boys & Girls Club. He said he barely knew how to play catch when he first started coming, but he found the father figures he had been needing. He went on to two years of varsity football at Carson High School and for the last four years has been one of the club’s Leaders in Training.
The Boys & Girls Club is one of Carson City’s success stories. It operates on an annual budget of $1.3 million a year. Club memberships cost $10, and many families it serves can’t afford even that.
It’s one of those places we all like to point to and say, “See, this is what good, motivated people can accomplish when given the support and resources to meet the needs of the community.”
Nevada needs places like the Boys & Girls Club.
But while much of the club’s budget comes from donations and private fund-raising, the $128,000 shortfall it is now facing is largely the result of Nevada’s state budget woes. When the Welfare Department had to cut back, one of the places was a $77,000 after-school child care program run by the Boys & Girls Club.
So the club has to go to places like Carson City Toyota and Capital Ford to ask for money. General Manager Dana Whaley on Wednesday happily handed over a $10,000 check. The Nevada Appeal does a lot for the club. So does Capital City Entertainment, better known as the Pinon Plaza and Carson Station, and a lot of other businesses in town.
These businesses pay taxes, too. The people who run them don’t like to see taxes go up, and they don’t like to see government waste the dollars it gets.
So they cut through the bureaucracy and give directly to the people who are making a difference in Carson City. They see the results, whose names are Crystal and Josh — and some 2,800 other kids.
The problem Lori Haney talked about is this: If the club doesn’t make its fund-raising goals, it may have to turn kids away.
“We’ve never had to do that before,” she said. “It will be difficult to choose who can attend the club and who can’t.”
You might think it doesn’t make a difference to you. But it does to somebody.
“Consider where Crystal might be if she had been turned away from this club,” Haney concluded. “Let’s take care of our kids today before it costs us tomorrow.”
Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.