Making It Happen for Our Youth

By Wade Middaugh, Boys & Girls Club

This year Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City marks 28 years of afterschool and summer programming for youth in our community. During that time, the need for its growth and the importance of its services for our youth are more evident than ever. The past year is a perfect case for why the Club is so needed and how, over the last three decades, staff, board members, community partners like United Way, and investors have kept their eyes on the future and remained dedicated to expanding services to all youth in our community.

In the spring of 2022, with continued waitlists at multiple sites, the Club began searching for a new location to expand services on the West side of the community. When an ideal location was found in May, staff and board members wasted no time in purchasing the building and property. Our unwritten motto is “Make it happen,” and this plan was no different. After a sixty-day remodel, the Club opened the new facility in August. Purchasing, remodeling and opening a new facility for 175 children in less than ninety days would take a miracle. Yet again, the Club, with the support of our community at our back, has seen many miracles for our youth. The new Sadowski Center opened last fall and just completed its first very successful school year. It continues that success and building on our mission to serve more children by allowing the Club to offer a second summer camp location. It also doubles the amount of children that can be served every summer.

The Club didn’t stop there. While the Sadowski Center is serving youth for the first time this summer, the Club has expanded its commitment to our teens as well. For the first time ever, our middle and high school-aged Club members have a full summer long camp instead of just the month of June this year. This expansion furthers our investment and commitment to teens in our community. For the past few years, one of our priorities has been to better serve our teen population and increase the number of teens in our program who need our support. The Club has made investments in high-end STEM activities for teens that includes robotics, 3D printing, esports programming, a recording studio, and even virtual reality career exploration goggles. The primary focus for our teens at the Boys & Girls Club is to help guide their success and offer a variety of experiences and programs that engage them in thinking about their future and what that successful future looks like to them. This expanded program during the summer helps to provide continuity of our programming for teens and has already proven itself to be a great success with a 59% increase in teen enrollment since last year.

All of this growth is only possible because of the continued support of our community, and we have no greater community partner than United Way of Central Missouri. United Way not only funds a large share of the scholarship program that allows those youth who cannot afford the program to attend, their funding has also supported many necessary items over the years. Items like vehicles to transport kids home who don’t have reliable transportation in their family, kitchen equipment to provide meals so no child goes home hungry, or temporary walls to divide spaces and keep kids safe during COVID. We are so appreciative of the continued support from United Way and its donors that helps ensure we partner with other United Way member agencies like Little Explorers Discovery Center, the Sneaker Project, or Dreams to Reality to make those funds go father for those in need in our community. We are all stronger when we Live Untied together!

The growth of our programs is vital to the success of our mission to enable all youth to become responsible, caring and productive citizens in our community. However, the programming, experiences, mentoring and support offered by the Club are the true recipe of what makes the Club successful in that mission. There is no better example of the success of our programming and our mission than Teen Center member Malani Morris, a 13-year-old who attends Lewis & Clark Middle School. Malani has attended the Club for over 4 years. She is a remarkable young woman who personifies all of the qualities that we encourage in a Club Kid. She is involved in her community, shines academically, and is truly engaged in the Club and has grown from her experience with us. Earlier this year, Malani represented the Club in Boys & Girls Club of America’s premier leadership program in Missouri as a Jr. Youth of the Year candidate. The Youth of the Year program consists of Club youth representing their hometown Clubs from across the state with essays and speeches. The program concludes with a winner announced each April in the Capital City. Candidates also get to the meet the Governor, their representatives, receive a proclamation from the Missouri Senate, and share their Club experience.

Malani did an excellent job representing our community and our Club. She was announced as the 2023 Jr. Youth of the Year for Missouri! She begins a legacy for our Club and community as the first ever winner from Jefferson City. We are so proud of her and were humbled as she shared her experience at the Club, speaking eloquently about the support from staff, the time she gets to bond with friends she doesn’t see at school, and how the accepting and empowering environment at the Club has set her up for success in her future. This is why all of us at the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City do the work we do, because youth are our future, and we owe it to them to clear obstacles, empower them, and set them up for a successful future. Looking at the past three decades of support, growth and success at the Club, now more than ever, I feel confident our community’s future is in good hands with our youth!