Valdosta Daily Times

March 16, 2014

Boys and Girls Club serves Valdosta for 70 years

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta began as the Valdosta Boys Club on Jan. 22, 1944, when Henry Hicks, Comer Cherry and R.H. Blankenship met at the old Daniel Ashley Hotel and organized the club. Around 1955, the Valdosta Girls Club was created. The two clubs merged in 1979, forming the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta.

To celebrate 70 years of serving the Valdosta community, the Boys and Girls Club wants the community to attend a charity event at 7 p.m.  April 1. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will attend.

The history of the Boys and Girls Club is important because the organization has not only encouraged the children who are members, but shaped Valdosta into an outstanding community.

The club’s membership is open to everyone aged 5-18 with a special focus on those from challenging or disadvantaged circumstances, the club states.

Opening up opportunities to children such as The Great Futures Impact Plan, the club inspires children and teens to achieve academic success, have a good character, be a good citizen and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Academic success is measured at the club by statistics: 95 percent of their students are promoted to the next grade level, 87 percent of their students improved one letter

 grade in subjects like math and language arts; 96 percent of their students were absent less than 15 days; and 100 percent of their high school seniors graduated in Brooks County, the club states.

The club offers a variety of leadership programs and service-learning opportunities to its members. These programs empower kids to support and influence their community, sustain relationships with others, develop a positive positive self-image and respect their own and others’ cultural identities.

Living a healthy lifestyle is an important message the club instills in its members, and some of those messages are: encouraging positive behaviors that nurture well-being, setting personal goals, avoiding risky behaviors and living successfully as self-sufficient adults.

“Our clubs also engage youth at every level in fitness activities that teach them how to take care of their bodies and develop positive sportsmanship,” the club states. “These activities include year-round organized sports such as, football, cheerleading, basketball, and baseball.”

The Valdosta Boys and Girls clubs offered sports to children in the community before the city had its park and recreation programs, so many of the athletes who contributed to Valdosta becoming ESPN’s “TitleTown USA” likely played for the early Boys and Girls Club. In the 1970s, the City of Valdosta Parks and Recreation Department and the YMCA expanded into the area of youth sports.

As the population of Valdosta grew in the 1950s, the Boys and Girls Club grew as well.

“The dream of a new building was realized in October 1955 with the opening of The Valdosta -Lowndes Youth Center. The new center would house the Boys Club and the newly formed Girls Club. The new facility was constructed at a cost of $54,000 generated from a variety of sources,” The club states. “In 1956 a swimming pool was added at a cost of $42,532. It was financed by a $35,000 gift from National Container Corporation and named in honor of Sam Kipnis. The balance came from contributions and proceeds from the sale of the Troup Street Club.”

By the 1960s the Boys Club had more than 1,100 members. In 1961, the Girls Club relocated onto property adjacent to the Boys Club, followed by the clubs’ merger in 1979.

During the 1980s the club expanded once again, adding a complex at Lake Laurie, but the organization also struggled.

“The sports program which for many years and had continually grown, now struggled with growth as the YMCA began a youth sports program which provided opportunities for younger youth to participate and began to gain some of the support the club had traditionally enjoyed,” the club said. “During the early 1980s  as the Club began to concentrate more on facility development the Club began to lose some of the support they had depended on and by 1986 the baseball program had dropped to 27 teams.”

This was a short struggle for the club because from 1986 through 1991 the participation in youth sports at the club doubled. Because of this success, the club expanded into South Lowndes County, and it built a multi-purpose field at Lake Park Elementary School. In 1999 the club began developing Phase II at the South Lowndes Complex, consisting of a gymnasium, soccer fields and facility housing game-room, arts and crafts and meeting rooms.

During the early 2000s the club’s funding began to dwindle, and by 2010 County funding for youth sports had been completely eliminated. The club had to flex and transform as the issues in the community shifted.

“In 2004 the Club began a Capital/Endowment Campaign with a goal of $7,000,000 to construct a new facility at Toombs Street, convert the existing facility into a teen center, add additional program space at Lake Laurie and provide $2.5 million into endowment,” the club states.

In 2009, the Valdosta Boys and Girls Club began working on their downtown facility, and that construction was completed in 2011; this opened the new David S Waller Unit, Don Reames Teen center, Lamar & Margaret Culbreth aquatic center and a new gymnasium.

Currently the club operates 80,000 square feet of facilities on 30 acres of property.

For more information on the Boys and Girls Club 70th anniversary event, please contact Cathy Parker at (229) 242-0676.