The month of December is a special one for the Boys & Girls Club of Panola County, it marks the organization’s fifth year in the community and surrounding areas.
According to Boys & Girls Club director Dennis Hoskins, the club was originally the brainchild of Dr. Loverta Brown with the Mississippi Department of Health.
Hoskins, who was working in another capacity with the community, began asking what people around here would like to see .
"I wanted to know what they thought would be a big help to the community," he said.
Following a series of initial town hall type meetings in 1996, the first board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Panola County was formed.
"With the leadership of our first president Dr. C. L. Stevenson and the other members of that board, we were able to get things moving," Hoskins said. "We were able to start doing some fundraisers and getting everything in place for when we would open the doors of the club."
That day came in July of 1999, and the club served about 75 children.
"When the club first opened its doors, it was for a summer program," Boys & Girls Club representative Belinda Morris said. "And we need to emphasize that none of this would have been possible without the AME Zion Church allowing us to use the building we are still housed in today."
After the meager start of 75 children, the Boys & Girls Club now serves 250 children with its after-school program.
Due to the success of the Batesville Club, the Boys & Girls Club of Panola County has spawned two satellite clubs with a third coming on line in 2005.
The two satellites already in operation are located in Lambert and Sardis. When the new club opens in 2005 it will be located in Crenshaw.
"I think the best thing this club has done for the community is bring a sense of togetherness, and show that the club provided a positive place for the children to help advance their educational skills," Morris said.
Hoskins said he believes the clubs would not be successful if not for the involvement of the people in the community.
"Community involvement is very important to us," he said. "If we didn’t have their support, we would not be able to offer the valuable services and programs we provide for the children in the area."
One way the Boys & Girls Club of Panola County could use the help of the community is through its fundraising efforts.
According to Hoskins, the federal grants that have largely funded the organization in the past have been cut in half.
"The cuts are not just affecting us here in Panola County," he said. "They are hurting clubs around the country."
Morris said if the club had additional funds available they would be able to service more children and all three locations.
Another issue hindering the growth of the Batesville Club is a lack of space.
"We are at our maximum level right now," Morris said. "If we are able to move into a larger building, we would be able to offer more programs that would appeal to more children."
Hoskins said in the future the club might consider starting up outreach programs for the children in the Pope and Enid areas.
"If we had the funding, we would be able to offer programs that those children might be interested in," he said.
With five years down and a lot of plans, where would the Boys & Girls Club of Panola County like to be in five more years?
Hoskins said he would like to see a more integrated program that has a first class facility to appeal to the youth of the area.
"We are an enhancement to the schools and offer programs the schools can’t because of their own budget constraints," he said. "We want to be able to serve as many children as we can."