Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis still meeting expectations even during the pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis (BGCM) has been providing mentoring and teaching leadership skills in communities around the Mid-South since 1958.

What may surprise you is BGCM started as The Phoenix Club before joining with the national organization, Boys Club of America, where the group worked out of the old Memphis Mounted Police Station on Barksdale Street, in what is now called Midtown.

Fast-forward to today’s BGCM, and everything has changed except the important stuff. They still lead the way in their ability to provide safe, dependable community outlets or clubs to hundreds of boys and girls.

FOX13′s Mearl Purvis has always been aware of the difference BGCM makes, but said she somehow lost track of how strong the impact remains until she was doing a special report on the agency for FOX13 Family Focus Day of Giving. Photographer Erica Moody and Purvis were blown away by the two club members they met, as well as the staff.

How to donate to FOX13′s Family Focus Day of Giving campaign

They met 10-year-old Otis Morris, aka ‘Yung Hunnid,’ a club member at Ira Samelson Jr. Club. He is an up-and-coming rapper who has been on FOX13 news before when he was featured on a national talk show. Morris is charming, smart, adorable, and told us all we needed to hear to know BGCM must always be available to young people in the community.

“People are shooting and stuff. But in the Boys and Girls Club, you’re safe around brick walls. You can run around, benches to sit on, you have restrooms,” Morris said.

They also met Jase Greene. Greene is just nine years old, but he has an old soul as if he sits at the knee of a grandparent to pick up wise words and phrases. His take on the club added to our feeling that kids need a place like BGCM in every community.

“Every day I come here, the Boys and Girls Club teaches me a new lesson in life, and it helps me every single day, and I remember that. When somebody treats me wrong, I know what to do. I don’t fight. I just know I can’t be friends with them,” Greene said.

Conflict resolution is part of what the club members are taught.

BGCM is no different from any other nonprofit that survived the pandemic in that they have struggled to maintain their funding level.

“Absolutely, it has been hard on our donors, which makes it equally hard on us. Just knowing that they may not know where their paycheck is coming from every month means they have to do and provide for their family, so it is a struggle daily, weekly, monthly to try to go out and talk to our donors,” said Rachel Reddin, the fundraising leader for BGCM. “It has definitely been a time that we will never forget.”

Reddin said the donations from corporations fell off dramatically, by more than 50% during 2020, but small gifts from individuals kept coming in at their normal level, helping keep them afloat.

“They are actually more important. Our individual donors are our heart and soul. They are the connection to our community,” Reddin said. “We have a lot that goes from five dollars a month to $25 a month to $150 a month. It really doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that you support us, and you support our mission.”

While the club members pay only $10 a year, there are nine traditional Clubs and one Technical Training Center that must be maintained, so the fundraising effort never stops.

The club members are taught how to give back to the communities that support them.

“Because so many people give to our kids’ lives, we try to encourage them to give back. Those programs have kids go to the community, whether it’s community clean up, volunteering at St. Jude Run, when they had a hurricane, we collected water,” said Gwendolyn Woods, director of Ira Samelson Jr. Clubs.

Building leadership skills, character development that leads to great choices, are ways to avoid crime and Woods says they have seen a slight decrease in crime in the neighborhoods where their clubs are located.

BGCM doesn’t turn any kid away, and they have a solid history of touching the lives of boys and girls who end up soaring to the top of their game as adults. Denzel Washington, Jennifer Lopez, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Ne-Yo, Sugar Ray Leonard are all alumni of Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

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