FORT MYERS, Fla. (April 30, 2014) – The Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County is celebrating 40 years of service to Southwest Florida in 2014.
As part of the yearlong celebration, the BGCLC wants to hear from former members who at anytime benefited from Club programs during their youth at any Club in the U.S. and who currently live in Southwest Florida.
The Boys & Girls Clubs works to inspire and enable young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens through character, leadership, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, sports, fitness and recreation. Currently, there are 1,400 members across the five Clubs in Lee County.
“We have many men and women business leaders in our community today who were once Club kids,” said Shannon Lane, chief professional officer of the BGCLC. “Each day, we see the difference our Clubs make by providing brighter futures for young people in our community, and to celebrate our 40th year, we want to hear from past Club kids no matter what Club they were affiliated with. Tell us your story.”
Lane said the organization plans to use the stories to commemorate the historical importance of the BCGLC as well as lay the groundwork for the Club’s next 40 years.
As a charter member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the BGCLC now have access to national programs for its members to follow in order to achieve academic success and character development, but in the early stages, the driving forces behind the Club were dedicated individuals wanting to do whatever it took to serve youth in low-income areas.
Retired educator and the BGCLC’s first director James Middlebrooks used basketball as a drawing point to entice youth to join the Club in its infancy. He rallied his board and volunteers to help him secure the old Dunbar High School gym as the first official BGCLC location. Some of Middlebrooks’ players included Deion Sanders and Richard Fain.
“Homework always came first before play,” he said. “But basketball was inexpensive compared to the costs associated with football equipment. We even had volunteers sew uniforms for our teams. We used to travel to play other Clubs in Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa and would put a beating on those teams.”
According to Middlebrooks, years later, Levon Simms, who was the head basketball coach at North Fort Myers High School at the time when Sanders and Fain played, attributed both his boys and girls teams’ success to the students having first played for Middlebrooks.
“Without the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club in Birmingham providing me free swim lessons at the age of seven, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that led to my early career as a renowned swim instructor,” said Lee Pitts, Fort Myers resident, host/executive producer of Lee Pitts Live and member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Alumni Hall of Fame.
Pitts became one of the most prominent swim instructors of his generation. In 1992, he secured his place in history by becoming the first African American to produce, direct and instruct in the award-winning swim lesson video “Waters: Beginners Swim Lessons for Adults and Children with Lee Pitts.”
“In addition to keeping kids off the street, the Boys & Girls Clubs also stress academics and teamwork,” he said. “Especially for low-income children to know there’s a safe place they can go where people genuinely care about them and want to help build their self-esteem is a great thing. Once you have self-esteem, you can go a long way.”
The BGCLC strives to provide a safe, world-class Club experience that assures success is within reach of every young person who walks through its doors. Clubs are located in communities with the greatest need where similar services are limited or nonexistent. Currently, the BGCLC have five locations including Lehigh Acres, Renaissance and Shady Oaks in Fort Myers, Suncoast in North Fort Myers and Pueblo Bonita in Bonita Springs.
Membership dues are just $10 per school year so that all children can have access to its programs. Currently, there are 178 youth on waitlists to join a club. The BGCLC rely upon the philanthropic support of individuals, corporations and foundations in order to sustain and grow its services.
“My daughter has maintained the A and B honor roll and has earned several awards since she has been a member of the Club in Lehigh Acres,” said Dana Bailey. “The Boys & Girls Clubs truly stand behind their motto ‘A positive place for kids.’”
“Our goal for next 40 years is to significantly increase resources in order to meet the needs of the growing number of kids being served and those on the waitlists,” said Greg Brock, current BGCLC board president/chief volunteer officer. “Once people truly understand the great work of our Boys & Girls Clubs, we hope the generous Southwest Florida community will join us in support of our mission. Far too many kids today are going without the life-changing services and programs provided by the BGCLC. We have been actively encouraged by others to expand services into areas such as Cape Coral and South Fort Myers and even as far northwest as Glades County.”
If you are a former Boys & Girls Clubs member from anywhere in the U.S. and currently live in Southwest Florida, please share your story by contacting Shannon Lane at 239-334-1886 or email@example.com or by visiting the Club’s Facebook page and leaving a comment at www.facebook.com/boysandgirlsclubs.