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Boys & Girls Clubs issue invite to Hodge
Council candidate called programs 'baby-sitting'

Thursday, November 1, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Boys & Girls Clubs have invited a Martinsville City Council candidate to see the organization’s work up close in response to recent comments she made that the clubs essentially are a baby-sitting service.

The after- school program helps educate young people and mold them into productive citizens, according to Laurie Wardle, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge, which operates the local clubs.

In a Martinsville Bulletin article on Tuesday, council candidate Sharon Brooks Hodge suggested that the city re-examine how it funds agencies outside city government yearly. In particular, she mentioned the Boys & Girls Club, which has been allocated a little more than $15,000 from the city this fiscal year for tasks that she described as “glorified baby-sitting.”

Hodge said she thinks some of that money could be redirected to efforts such as helping city residents start small businesses.

Based on Hodge’s comments, “it is clear ... that misconceptions exist about the services we (the clubs) provide for the children of Martinsville and Henry County,” Wardle wrote in an email to the Bulletin on Wednesday.

In the email, she invited Hodge or anyone else who might be interested in seeing what the clubs do to call 656-1171 to set up a personal tour or come to the clubs’ annual Youth of the Year Dinner on Dec. 6. There, high school students will discuss how the clubs have benefited them.

The local clubs give students a safe, structured place to go after school, Wardle wrote. She noted that more than 75 percent of the students they serve are from households at or below the federal poverty line.

“Far from being ‘glorified babysitting,’” she wrote, the clubs give students “many learning experiences they won’t find anywhere else.”

According to Wardle, the clubs serve hundreds of students ages 5 to 18. They receive academic enrichment, tutoring and mentoring by adults with special training. They also learn career and life skills, as well as take part in activities involving the arts, sports, fitness, health, community service and character building and leadership, she wrote.

She cited these examples:

• 15 students are learning high-tech career skills through the Club Tech program, which introduces them to software, hardware and networking; graphic design; digital photography; movie-making; digital art and music; Internet safety; clay animation; robotics; and video game design.

During the past two years, she noted, 33 high school students graduated from the Digital Connectors program, having completed 10 of 16 required modules for Cisco certification.

• 11 students are learning to play the steel drums in the clubs’ Virginia All-Steel Orchestra (VASO) under the tutelage of Shawn Thwaites, a musician who has performed with recording artist Lauryn Hill and trained at the Berklee College of Music.

Last September, she recalled, VASO was invited to Washington to perform during a national awards dinner for Boys & Girls Clubs celebrity alumni including actor Denzel Washington, professional basketball player Lebron James, movie director Ron Howard and recording artist Ashanti.

• Students in the clubs’ award-winning PALS tutoring program have made great strides in their reading abilities. Tutors work with elementary students who either are barely passing or have failed reading benchmarks, she said.

In the 2011-12 school year, out of 80 first- and second-grade students participating, 95 percent advanced at least one reading level, she said.

Wardle said being a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs helps students earn college scholarships and leadership opportunities that they otherwise might not receive. For example, she noted that last year, local club member Kenya Moore won the state Youth of the Year competition and received more than $2,000 in awards.

Effective after-school programs such as the Boys & Girls Clubs can “boost academic performance, reduce risky behaviors, promote physical health, and provide a safe, structured environment for the children of working parents,” Wardle said, citing the federal government’s Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs’ findings.

In a phone interview Wednesday night, Wardle said she was not angry at Hodge’s comments about the Boys & Girls Clubs.

Rather, she said the comments made her realize that her organization must better inform the public of its successes. She said her email to the Bulletin was intended to be “a platform to say, ‘Come on over’” and see what the clubs have to offer young people.

Hodge said she has done her research on the Boys & Girls Clubs and if she accepts Wardle’s invitation, “it’s not necessarily going to change my mind” about reducing the amount of city funds the clubs receive.

She said she is not trying to hurt the feelings of anyone or any community organization that does good work.

However, “these are very difficult times” economically, Hodge said.

“We all have to determine what the best use of taxpayer funds is going to be ... and at some point, we’re going to have to make difficult decisions” as to what programs continue to be funded, she said.


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