National head of Boys & Girls Club visits Modesto

Jim Clark, president of the Boys & Girls Club of America, speaks at a luncheon in Modesto on Friday.
Jim Clark, president of the Boys & Girls Club of America, speaks at a luncheon in Modesto on Friday. naustin@modbee.com

The Battle of the Paddles pitted pingpong pairs from local businesses in a fast and furious fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Stanislaus County. But before the smacks and cracks of the battle began Friday evening, community members gathered to discuss why raising that money matters.

At a luncheon, speakers cheered the county group’s first year of operation and heard from visiting national Boys & Girls Club President Jim Clark.

Until August 2013, Modesto was the largest city in America to not have a Boys & Girls Club, Clark said. For most of its 154-year history, the nonprofit was “a swim and gym operation,” he said. “But for the last several years, we’ve shifted that.”

Today’s Boys & Girls Clubs have turned their attention from recreation to a focus on after-school and summer learning, a bolster against “the decaying ecosystem that families face,” he said, citing national figures of poverty, childhood obesity and dropouts.

“What’s challenging about those numbers is they’re growing,” Clark said. “If we wait for another generation to act, we won’t have much of a society left.” Local programs, he said, “are a catalyst for real change. Every child that enters our doors is on track to graduate.”

Last year, Boys & Girls Club after-school programs opened in two Sylvan Union schools in north Modesto. Sylvan Elementary and C.F. Brown Elementary were the two chosen, both with about 85 percent of their students living in low-income households, said Sylvan Superintendent Debra Hendricks.

“Our Boys & Girls Clubs were able to bring in parents, where schools are sometimes not able to,” Hendricks said. The programs eliminated a long waiting list for after-school services within the district. “For students in Boys & Girls Clubs, attendance has improved, and with more time in school, academics have improved,” she said.

This year, Somerset Middle School came on board, working with after-school clubs and soon to offer noon intramural sports, Hendricks said.

The program, with funding from the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, is seeking a high school setting to complete the path to graduation, Clark said. “We need that continuum,” he said. “Otherwise, all the work done earlier evaporates.”

Stanislaus Boys & Girls Club board member Chad Brown summed it up. “We can change expectations, get Modesto off the bottom of the list,” he said. “It all starts with the kids.”