For almost seventy years, the Boys and Girls Club of Lanier has helped youth in the community reach their full potential.
The primary goal of this non-profit is to provide a fun and safe after school environment for kids ages six to 18 in the Hall County community.
The club fulfills this purpose by offering over 40 after school programs, annual summer camps and sports leagues at one of their 15 club locations. Many schools serve as club locations, so students do not even have to leave the building after class.
Boys and Girls Club of Lanier programs fall into three main categories: academic success, healthy lifestyles and character and citizenship.
Some of the academic success programs include an after school Power Hour of tutoring and homework help, identifying and assisting those who are considered high-risk for not graduating high school and college preparation.
“We are actually laser-focused now on ensuring that every child that comes through our doors is on track to graduate from high school with a plan for the future,” said Joyce Wilson, Chief Development Officer for the Boys and Girls Club of Lanier.
The club also introduces its members to fitness routines and healthy habits through the healthy lifestyle programs. While many of these programs focus on sports, club members also learn about nutritious eating and mental well-being.
Through the character and citizenship programs club staff can hone in on identifying a child’s current behavior and working with them to influence it for the better. These programs are perhaps most influential in molding club members into good members of the community.
“If you build good young people, you build a great community,” said Steven Mickens, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Lanier. “We wanna show that those kids are ready and prepared and equipped to be a part and contribute [to the community].”
The Boys and Girls Club of Lanier was established as the Gainesville-Hall County Boys Club in 1954 as an after school place for young boys to participate in various activities. The Girls Club was established in 1963 and the two merged to form the Boys and Girls Club of Hall County in 1997. The club was renamed to its current title in 2017.
Despite the name changes the club still serves the same purpose; staff do their best to make activities engaging and fun for the over 7,000 youth they serve annually while teaching valuable lessons in a safe environment.
Ari Guzman, Director of the Joseph E. Walters club that serves Lyman Hall Elementary students, said numerous parents have told her that they are thankful for a secure place their kids can stay during the work day.
“The parents feel the kids are in a safe place, they know that here is like that they’re home…they trust us,” said Guzman.
The Boys and Girls Club of Lanier is also respected in the community for their fundraising efforts. One of their most well-known fundraisers, the Rubber Duck Derby, just passed in May.
Although the fundraiser operated as a virtual raffle this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, Brenda Bohn, Development and Communications Director for the club, said the amount of money raised for the club far surpassed expectation.
“It was a great success…we actually adopted a record number of ducks this year,” said Bohn. “We were really thrilled with the outpouring of support that the community showed to us and it turned out to be a wonderful fundraiser for us.”
The club has been forced to make many changes in their regular operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including closing their doors and transitioning activities to a virtual format. But, Bohn said club staff are still making every effort possible to provide interactive instruction and plan on continuing summer camps.
“We’re excited to be able to offer the virtual summer camp this year…we’re doing a lot with fitness, crafts, doing things to stave off the learning loss during the summer so kids are prepared to get back to school in the fall.”
Club staff can tell of countless success stories from children who have joined the Boys and Girls Club of Lanier- a great example is Jonlyn Forest. Forest is a rising junior at Gainesville High School who started attending the club when she was in third grade.
Forest was named the club’s 2020 Youth of the Year earlier this year after volunteering over 100 hours with the organization. Forest said winning the nomination humbled her, but what she appreciates most from her involvement with the Boys and Girls Club is how her experiences have shaped her as a person.
“It’s made me caring, it’s made me kind, it’s built me up for the future, it’s been everything for me, everything that I never knew I needed,” said Forest.
Jonlyn said club staff and members are like family to her, and anyone is welcome to join this family.
“We love you, we’ll accept you no matter what you look like, what your hair is like, no matter what. Just come to the Boys and Girls Club,” said Forest.