Help the Boys and Girls Club Changes Lives

article posted 11/11/2014
Nearly twenty years after its founding, the Boys & Girls Club of the Monroe Area can lay claim to changing the lives of thousands of children for the better. On December 22, 1995 approximately 20 individuals from the local area gathered to talk about how they could improve the lives of children from this small community called Madisonville. Over the next month, the number of community members interested in becoming part of a movement to care for children after school grew to 45, and by the end of the month of January of 1996 a “Charter of Incorporation” and a “Constitution” had been developed and signed. The only challenge that remained was how this Club would be funded in the short run and long term. One hundred children joined the Club within days of the doors opening; and since that time, that one Club located in Madisonville has multiplied itself seven times. The overarching goal of the Club was to care for children after school, and the help those children with their homework, to provide them with meals that were of a healthy nature, to enable them to play with other children indoors and outside, as well as to teach them how to be good citizens. Today, the Club not only serves children from Madisonville, but in 7 Clubs throughout the County: Vonore, Sweetwater, Tellico Plains, Rural, Vale, a Teen Center located at Hiwassee College, and the newest Club site which just opened a couple of months ago in Coker Creek. The number of children directly served as members over the years since the Club’s opening is estimated to be about 10,400. However, the Club has also served about another 10,000 children indirectly through its community outreach. What’s interesting about this Club is the way in which it organizes its daily activities. The structure the staff uses enables children of similar age to rotate through activities which support the mission of the Club. For example, the Club provides children with time to eat a healthy-measured meal, homework assistance, computer time, exercise time inside and outside, reading, art, and socialization. Many of these activities are time monitored and reviewed for success outputs. The objective is to make sure the children are keeping up with the school work they were involved in during the day, that they never leave the Club hungry, that they get a reasonable amount of exercise, and that the Club staff has opportunities to engage each child with lessons on the importance of establishing good social morals, ethics, and character development as well as providing them with opportunities to strengthen their leadership skills. This year, the Club implemented two new programs: 1) Read Aloud Literacy Program; and 2) The Community Garden - From Farmer to Philanthropist. Read Aloud Literacy Program: Did you know that reading to or children at an early age and then allowing them to read to us or independently for 20 minutes a day will greatly enhance our children’s overall academic success. According to www.k12reader.com, reading improves listening skills, improves academic performance, builds early literacy skills, and prepares children to reach their full potential. Dr. Anthony Tricoli, the Club’s CEO shared some of the benefits of a Read Aloud Program, so here they are: “1) A Read Aloud program enables us to help children to strengthen their listening and comprehension skills; 2) We can help children to increase their vocabulary, and the use of words by hearing those words used in context; 3) We can help children to improve their memory and language skills as the hear various writing styles and begin to paraphrase their understanding; 4) We can help children to gain information about the world around them that they might not otherwise hear about; and 5) We can help children to begin to develop an individual interest in a broad array of subjects or topics, and can thus further develop their imagination and creativity which could also lead to strengthening the inquiry skills we all need.” The Boys & Girls Club staff encourages community members to visit the Club and read a book to a child. The Club’s Read Aloud Literacy Program is used to introduce lessons, provide an introduction to new concepts, to increase vocabulary, to help bring abstract ideas to life, and to encourage discussion and investigation. In addition, the colorful illustrations in the books shared with these children seem to elicit a wide variety of engaging discussions and stories well beyond the words that can be found on the page. If you are thinking about participating in the Club’s Read Aloud program you may be wondering how to select a book to share with the children. Here are a few more ideas from Dr. Anthony Tricoli, the Club’s CEO to help you in that process: “1) young children sometimes find it difficult to separate fact from fiction, so be careful to select a book with the most accurate information; 2) select a book based upon a specific purpose, remember that the Boys & Girls Club focuses our work on strengthening good decision making, building character, improving education, and in helping children to make good life decisions, and on creating and living by healthy habits; 3) select a book that would encourage questions and engagement between the children and yourself; and 4) think about connections to other literature and to the genre topic of the Club’s work.“ From Farmer to Philanthropist the Community Garden Project at the Boys & Girls Club: We’ve all heard that kids who grow vegetable eat more vegetables. One day during a visit to one of the Club sites, Dr. Tricoli brought a sack of vegetables to the Club for props in a discussion with the children. He held up a red pepper and asked, “What is this?” A young child responded, “An apple.” He then held up a carrot and asked, “What is this?” A child responded, “A pepper.” He then asked, “Where do these come from?” A child responded, “Wallmart.” With that, Dr. Tricoli was on a mission to create an educational vegetable garden at each of the Club’s seven sites. With a kind donation from Sam Curtis and the Board of Directors from the Farm Bureau Insurance Agency in Madisonville, the Club purchased the materials needed to build seven raised gardens. Two large pallets of soil were donated by Bill Sloan at the Sloan Center in Madisonville. Seeds were donated by Leon Tillman from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Center also in Madisonville. And the kids of the Club were off and growing. In just a couple of months, peppers, carrots, squash, and beans were growing by the dozens. “The children also studied the difference of plant that received overwatering vs. under watering, those that received full sun vs. those that only received shade, and different levels of regular potting soil vs. manure. “These mini-studies (STEM-like), were all part of the plan to not just grow vegetables, but to learn how and what makes vegetables grow. We want to treat every situation as an opportunity to learn,” said Dr. Anthony Tricoli. So, once those vegetables were picked what do you think the kids did with them? You guessed it; they donated the vegetables to the Good Shepard Home to feed the homeless and hungry. This is what Dr. Tricoli calls Full-Circle Philanthropy Gardening. The Club is funded via competitive Federal and State grants and individual donations. “Funding has always been our greatest challenge,” said Paul Willson, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Club. “Some years are just a downright struggle with Board members having to assist with payroll. We were fortunate to have received a kind and generous legacy gift, but the Club goes through money quickly. The Club needs a continuous influx of new and ongoing financial assistance from individuals and organizations in the local community in order to keep on serving these children who so desperately need our help.” On the average the Club’s grants have totaled about $500k/year. This leaves $500,000 unfunded annually. The slow-down in the national economy has put a cramp on fundraising for the Club. The Board Members say they are fortunate to have the expertise of Dr. Anthony Tricoli at the helm at this time. But they acknowledge, even he will need help to raise enough money locally to meet the annual club budget which exceeds $1 million dollars. Want to help make an impact on the life of a child? Contact Dr. Anthony Tricoli (423) 442-6770 and make a donation today. Your donation will help the Club to reduce generational poverty, educate a child, build good character and leadership, encourage healthy lifestyle habits, and feed a hungry child. Change the Future, call the Club today and donate (423) 442-6770