Rotary Club speaker tells how Boys and Girls Club helps improve local kids’ lives

By Edwin Crayton

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Childhood is supposed to be a time of joy and promise. But statistics show it is becoming much less so. Every day in America, 2,857 high school students drop out of school.  An alarming 75% of our young people between the ages of 18 and 25 cannot get into the military because of inadequate literacy, poor health of some sort of criminal history. The percentage of children living in single parent homes more than doubled. Those bleak statistics, gathered from Children’s Defense Fund and personal experience, were shared by Liza Behrendsen, Executive Director of the local El Camino Real chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. Behrendsen spoke at a noon day Rotary Club Luncheon at the Recreation facility at Northwestern, Tuesday, September 6.

But Behrendsen had good news too: the right mix of attention, love, and parental and community involvement can turn things around and is doing so nationally and here in town. She shared how the Natchitoches chapter of the Boys And Girls Club is doing its part to help. Behrendsen added, “The door to our children’s futures is often crowded with temptation and misdirection, making it difficult for them to reach their own potential. Opportunity is not always given a door to knock on so we built one.” That door she referred to is the door to the Boys and Girl Club where kids are given “hope and opportunity” as she put it.

Locally some kind of door of opportunity is certainly needed when you consider that as much as 30% of children in Natchitoches Parish live below the poverty level.  More than 25% of our children have either been suspended or been assigned after school suspension. 60% of club members are from single parents homes—16% higher than all other regions.  And 77% of our children are unable to read at grade level.  A majority of the local children affected are African American. Yet Behrendsen made it clear that every child regardless of race or family income is really “at risk” because of trends in society.

The club responds with practical help and compassion. Kids get help from a range of services and character building programs. Among those are mentors, guidance from caring adult volunteers, a computer lab, meals and snacks. There is also a vegetable gardening project. The club provided 15, 812 meals in 2015. Kids went on 38 field trips and the club served over 861 children.  But despite the impressive numbers, when she thinks of local children, Behrendsen obviously sees faces instead of numbers.  She envisions the children those stats represent. She recalled through personal testimonies, the pleasure of seeing how people benefited years after being members in the club. Behrendsen said, “The statistics make it clear that our work is of the greatest importance and purpose. But she acknowledged that the statistics also show that the “we still have much work to do.” She thanked the Rotary Club for its support.

Rotary International was established in 1922 as an association of civic -minded professional people who use their resources support community organizations like Boys and Girls Club. The name “rotary” is said to have come out of the practice of rotating meeting locations. Past Rotary Club members have included prominent people such as  Thomas Edison, Sir Winston Churchill, former presidents George W Bush and Jimmy Carter and  James Cash Penny, founder of J.C. Penney Stores.  

Leading Americans who benefited from being in the Boys and Girls Club include: Denzell Washington, Jennifer Lopez, Usher and Shaquille O’ Neal.

Reprinted with permission of Real Views