Two of the greatest needs in our community:
1. To keep children out of gangs and other bad behavior by providing better alternatives
2. To increase the number of teens who are graduating from high school and help them become capable, caring citizens.
Two of the primary goals of Boys & Girls Clubs: See above.
A Boys & Girls Club has been in the formative stage in Stanislaus County for nearly two years. This week, the young nonprofit reached a milestone with an agreement to provide after-school programs at two elementary schools in Modesto starting in the fall.
This is good news indeed, potentially the start of something that will benefit hundreds of youngsters at the two Sylvan Union School District campuses and then eventually spread across Modesto and the county, helping to move the needle on our intractable problems of juvenile crime and low education levels.
A group of community heavy hitters has been working largely behind the scenes to get this club launched. It was, in part, a reaction to the closure of the YMCA in 2009, but also part of a sense that something had to be done to help our ag-based community grow the most important crop of all productive young people.
The local club is affiliated with the national organization of the same name, which has a strong track record. In November, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America was named by Forbes magazine as one of five all-star charities, worth supporting because they are "reasonably efficient and do fine work in their areas."
Boys & Girls Clubs operate in surrounding counties, and the program in Tracy was a model that local leaders and Sylvan district officials visited for ideas.
In a nutshell, the club will begin with programs from the end of school through 6 p.m. weekdays at Sylvan Elementary and Coleman F. Brown, both schools serving high numbers of poor and modest-income families.
This won't be just baby-sitting time. In addition to time for homework and a healthy snack, there will be time for recreation, arts and more. The goal is for the Boys & Girls Club to work with other young programs, such as the golfing program First Tee, to introduce youngsters to all sorts of positive activities, from sports to science.
While the club will begin by school-year programs at the two campuses, leaders hope that they will soon be able to offer summer activities there and a year-round program at Somerset Middle School. Success in the Sylvan district will, hopefully, prompt interest at other school districts.
The club will get some funding from the district through the state dollars it receives for After School Education and Safety Program. The nonprofit will have to raise the remainder, an estimated $400,000 a year. It already has lined up some corporate sponsors and other donors and board members are reaching out. We also can expect some major fund-raising events.
Modesto attorney Dave Gianelli deserves credit for his strong leadership in launching the Boys & Girls Club of Stanislaus County, but he's getting help from government, business and other civic leaders.
Jim Richards, who has helped start numerous Boys & Girls Clubs, has been serving as interim executive director of the Stanislaus County branch. The board hopes to hire a permanent executive soon. The club will rely on a mix of paid staff and volunteers.
The community residents who have devoted time, expertise and money to get this new organization off the ground deserve applause and thanks. Kudos as well to the Sylvan district for being receptive to this innovative, but proven, concept.
We think this could be a small start to something very big and positive for Stanislaus County.