Kids prosper and find their voice at the club

What do Denzel Washington and Thurston County’s Terrance Gardenhigh have in common? Although they share an uncanny ability to entertain, that’s not it. And despite their rugged good looks, that isn’t it, either. What they share is something infinitely more important when it comes to determining future success: their common roots in the Boys and Girls Club. While Mr. Washington has since flourished into a tree of success, Mr. Gardenhigh is still a seedling.

Terrance is a 7 year-old South Bay Elementary School student that regularly attends the Lacey Boys and Girls Club. He’s been going there most days since he was 5, so if you ask him, he’s an old pro. I put on a reporter’s hat and sat down with Terrance for a few minutes last week to talk with him about his experience with the club. Rumors of pizza were floating around when I arrived, so a few minutes were all I got. Imagine, a 7 year-old boy distracted by pizza.

“I like it and it’s very awesome, but it’s not the best place in the world.” I was waiting for some less-than-desirable juicy detail about this upstanding organization to come spouting from the mouth of this babe. But alas, I would have to wait some more. “Charlie’s Safari would be better.” He rolled his brown eyes with a smirk plastered on his face, knowing how well he was playing this old fiddle.

“They don’t teach me to raise my hand or treat others with respect here.” Again, I anxiously awaited the rest of the story. “They make me do those things, but they don’t teach me since I already knew that stuff.” I should have known.

The day before my interview with Terrance, Boys and Girls Club board member Michelle Wickett invited me to attend the “Great Futures Summer Blast” at their Tumwater location where we, along with other board members and community professionals each paired up with a club kid. Just as the name of the event suggests, we were celebrating the great futures of these kids. How? Not just with water games and ice cream, but by answering the not-so-rhetorical question, “Its 3:00 and school’s out…where are your kids?”

I was paired up with 8 year-old Emily Whitesell of Tumwater, and aside from her sweet disposition, one thing that really stood out while I was there was the organization within the organization. The kids had to wait their turns in line, raise their hands when they had something to say, and be quiet when they were asked to be quiet. But if you think this group is about boring etiquette lessons, think again. These kids were having an epic blast. Emily and her friends proved it with the smiles on their faces and giggles in their eyes.

The Boys and Girls Club of Thurston County started in that same Tumwater location in 2001, and has since grown to 4 clubs, also in Olympia, Lacey, and Rochester. Now, the Club’s collective enrollment reaches 700. That’s a big number of kids that aren’t home alone playing video games or on the streets getting into trouble.

But this fun, safe environment doesn’t come without a cost; tuition for the Club is a whopping $25 per child…per year! And for those who can’t swing the tuition, scholarships are awarded. In all, nearly 25 percent of club kids are awarded full scholarships.

How does an organization like this provide such a benefit? Thrifty management and local generosity. Do the kids care that the typical club building is a modest structure that more resembles a warehouse than the Taj Mahal? Heck no. They care about things kids care about, like friends, fun, and pizza.

Will Terrance be as famous as Denzel some day? Odds are probably not. Will he have the same opportunity? Absolutely. So long as we adults in the community make it so. Check out WWW.BGCTC.ORG to find out how you can do your part.